Category Archives: Culture views

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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Going To The Dogs

“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.” Aldous Huxley

Deluged in conflicting statistics, we have become inured to shock and confirmed in our protective cocoon of skepticism. Occasionally, however, a set of statistics stops me cold. I read the other day that there are just under ninety million dogs in the United States along with over ninety-four million cats.[i] Juxtaposed with other readily available statistics, that one gave me pause. For instance, there are around eighty-two million human beings under the age of twenty in our country.[ii] So, we have many more dogs than young people. And the ratio of dogs to young people has climbed appreciably year after year. What does that say to us?  Or about us?[iii]

Now before you tag me with the ‘dog hater’ label, I like dogs, having had dog pets both as a kid and as an adult.  I am curious though as to the implications of the statistics. Let’s look together at some other stats that may bear on our discussion.

Our United States fertility rate in 2017 was 1,765.5, or just over seventeen hundred babies born per thousand women over their lifetimes.[iv] To sustain our population at current levels takes 2,100. Since we are also living longer, like almost all the countries in the Western world we have an aging population. What does that forecast for social programs like Social Security and Medicare? Just after the Second World War in 1945, there were forty-one workers contributing to the funds for every retiree. Today that number is below 2.9 and projected to be 2.3 by 2030. Thus, there is much talk about correcting these programs, but so far not the political will to take the necessary and painful steps to fix them.

The fertility rates vary widely from state to state. The more left leaning states most disinclined politically to adjust the social services problem are in the Northeast and West Coast; they also trail the pack with the lowest fertility rates. Why progressives are having far fewer children than more moderate and conservative citizens is another topic worth exploring.  Not to succumb to the distractions of cowardly politicians, but as John Adams so famously stated, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

One would think that fewer children must mean we treat the children we do have much better, with greater consideration and commitment to our relationships between the parents and to the children’s well-being, right? Well, sometimes. In aggregate, though, since 1970 and the advent of the paradigm shift in our culture regarding child bearing and marriage for life, the percentage of children being raised by someone other than their biological parents in a first marriage has doubled from 27% to 54%. [v]

“Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” Ann Landers

Several quotes spring to mind as I think of these numbers. Bob Dylan in his megahit, “Lay, Lady, Lay” wrote this refrain: “Lay, lady, lay; lay across my big brass bed.” It echoes the beat poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti[vi] from the fifties: “Let’s lie down somewheres, baby.” Compare and contrast with Shakespeare’s oft quoted Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken,

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Who among us does not enjoy the sights and signs of children, signs of hope, wonder and life? Does a decline in those willing to bear children, raise children, lay down their lives for children and their spouses signify effervescing hope, wonder and life?  A final question for our consideration comes from a talk we heard from Dr. Janet Smith about twenty-five years ago. In it she spoke of marriage and families. She asked if some of the rewritten vows that were popular at the time were troubling.

Like the difference between “Lay, lady, lay” and “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,” is there a difference between, “we’ll hang out and support one another as long as we are mutually fulfilled and feel content in each other’s company,” and “in sickness and health, rich or poor, good times or bad until death do us part.” Dr. Smith taught (paraphrased in my memory), that traditional vows promised openness to life and a forever commitment. They promised the difference between “lets lie down somewheres, baby” and “I want to get to know you ever more deeply, trust you more deeply, respect you more deeply, love you for your sake, not mine, grow old together with you and share all things and paths with you, come what may. I want our beautiful love when expressed in our physical intimacy empowered to co-create with God’s help another eternal human being who looks a lot like you, then love and raise that unique tiny person into maturity together.” What have we gained by mistaking license for freedom? What have we lost?

“A dog is a pitiful thing, depending wholly on companionship, and utterly lost except in packs or by the side of his master. Leave him alone, and he does not know what to do except bark and howl and trot about till sheer exhaustion forces him to sleep.” H.P. Lovecraft

[i] Insurance Information Institute – Pet statistics

[ii] U.S. Census Bureau statistics on U.S. Population by Age Group

[iii] P.D. James, celebrated author of the Adam Dalgleish mystery series wrote a terrifying dystopian novel about a future society with an infertility crisis. Children of Men was made into a well-received Clive Owen’s movie in 1992. In it desperate mothers in hope wheeled dogs around in baby carriages. I’ve seen a few of those around here.

[iv] “Fertility Rate Varies Widely Across U.S”, Brianna Abbott, Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2019

[v] Pew Research Group – “Fewer than half of U.S. Kids Today live in Traditional Families

[vi] Ferlinghetti was lesser known that his fellow “beat” writers like Alan Ginsburg or Jack Kerouac, but in my youth was widely read. I still must have his “Coney Island of the Mind” somewhere in mislaid box of books.

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American Elm

“The elms bent to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after a few seconds of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms about…” David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

Recently we were walking in the historic section of Newport. In front of the Judicial Center near the Old State House or Old Colony House[i] on the east end of Washington Square we chanced upon a mature eighty-foot American Elm. Once common along so many New England town commons and main thoroughfares, they are now a rarity, especially one as large and old: a true wonder and gift to behold. The spread of the nearly vertical clean main leaders and branches draws the eye upward like few other species do. Like Chartres or Notre Dame, they lift the heart and spirit.

When I was first learning tree pruning crafts, elms were among the more challenging for neophyte nervous climbers. High unprotected foot-locking while gripping together two strands of climbing line to reach the lowest branches followed by some long, shin chafing, sweaty palmed scurrying up steep, sometimes slippery leaders made getting into one of these tall beauties uniquely difficult. But once tied into the sinewy, supple limbs in a secure upper central crotch, then balancing to reach outer limbs and swinging from limb to limb were exhilarating, unencumbered and fun.

The scourge of Dutch Elm Disease in the sixties and seventies all but wiped them out. American elms form natural root grafts, so once one magnificent individual was infected, the fungus could infect the arteries (xylem in this case) of every elm with overlapping root systems and lay waste to a whole street. Unlike many other species, elm trees are particularly vulnerable because they transport their water and nutrients only in one outermost annual ring. Once those fragile single layer vessels are clogged with fungi, the elm was usually doomed. As I matured in my tree climbing experience, so did the disease spread, and I spent many more days taking down and destroying these beautiful dead creatures than pruning live ones. A chainsaw is a poor instrument for fine pruning.  The elm bark beetle overwinters in dead elm trees under the bark and fungus spores are spread stuck to their bodies when the hatched mature beetles fly to bore into healthy trees in the spring to lay their eggs. A perfect symbiosis: the fungus needs live xylem; the beetle needs dead bark to protect its burrows and nests over the winter. The shared unlucky host is the dying elm tree. Cleaning up and getting rid of dead elm wood is one of the more effective preventatives in the losing battle against the disease, so we muscled them to the ground. To spot the yellow telltale flagging of wilting leaves on a tiny limb was a portent, dispiriting, like the long, meaningful, silent gaze of an oncologist when the biopsy results come back, preparing to deliver the bad news.

Segue: The English word “truth” derives from the Old English “triewth or treowth” meaning trustworthiness, constancy or faithfulness. Ultimately it is believed to have descended from the ancient Indo-European word for wood or tree, “the semantic link being the firmness or steadfastness of oaks and such trees.”[ii] As the elm tree is perfect, true, consistent and faithful to its purpose, so, too is objective truth. As the elm tree dies of its own vulnerability and a tiny spore, so too in post modern times does the concept and common value of “treowth.” Truth has devolved to whatever is necessary to achieve the ends of the definers.

“In our time political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible…When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims,” one turns to “long words and exhausted idioms, like cuttlefish squirting out ink.” George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” in The George Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays and Reportage (New York: Harcourt, 1984) originally published in 1948, 363

In 1948 to brilliant minds like Orwell’s, the future degradation of language was clear. No longer do news media, politicians or bureaucrats write the truth or even the facts as they understand them. Language is persuasive; symbolic acts are persuasive; film, music, political discourse, fiction and non-fiction are persuasive and always in service of the chosen narrative, the agenda. Whatsoever advances persuading others to strengthen the agenda is right. Right, objective right, what we ought to do to be true to the facts is secondary even accidental. Such adherence to fairness and objectivity is considered foolish, or worse, a betrayal. It does not even matter really if we convince others to change their minds, but we must stay safely in our concurring herd. To suffer rejection and mockery because we speak in criticism of the current accepted normality, no matter how abnormal, is our deepest fear. We speak and write and post bullet point posters to gain “Likes” from the likeminded.

The Kavanaugh circus is the latest episode. Someone’s lying, and it doesn’t matter so long as the agenda is promoted. That Senator Feinstein and her gang of bushwhackers held on to the letter from Dr. Ford with the uncorroborated accusations of sexual assault for over six weeks was part of the ambush. Grossly unfair to Justice Kavanaugh with the eleventh-hour sandbag job, and grossly unfair to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford because, while it riled up the likeminded in the media, filling all with self-righteous indignation, the surprise attack time frame left few prospects for proper investigation and vetting. Dr. Ford was left naked in the public square by her allies and the circling hyenas surrounding Kavanaugh, who were only interested in embarrassing the judge, undermining fair due process and stopping the nomination at any cost. Including awful cost to Dr. Ford: whether she is believed or not, her life is irretrievably changed. The truth, the true facts had nothing to do with the cauldron or the agenda.

 Then we had the box of coat hangers delivered to Senator Susan Collin’s office. So many lies in that box, it’s hard to sort them out, but the nearly unbearable pressure was clear. Vote to confirm Justice Kavanaugh and soon will follow thousands of butchered and maimed women abandoned on bloody kitchen tables. That Kavanaugh would be one vote of an impossible to predict nine was not a consideration. Forty-five year’s weight of stare decisis since Roe v Wade was not a consideration. Should the extremely remote possibility of a reversal or a curtailment of the most liberal abortion ruling in the world occur, the law would revert for the states to establish in their various jurisdictions, and the great majority of the states allow abortion in almost all circumstances. Voters could vote. None of the facts mattered, only the emotional bludgeon.

Senator Collins stood strong against it all. A pro-choice Republican with the full onslaught of the abortion lobby storming her office, she stood strong. And she will be forever vilified for it, attacked politically in every way because she held that the facts did not support rejecting the nomination of a man with a thirty plus year history of brilliant jurisprudence and the support of every woman that he had mentored and advanced during his long career. Here is what she said: “Certain fundamental legal principles about due process, the presumption of innocence, and fairness do bear on my thinking, and I cannot abandon them. In evaluating any given claim of misconduct, we will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness, tempting though it may be. We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.”

Fair minded? Principled? Thoughtful? What we say we want in our leaders, but rarely support in practice? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Senator Collins supported both liberal Justices Kagan and Sotomayor. She voted to sustain the Affordable Care Act. She voted for the largest government stimulus in our history submitted by President Obama. But when she held to principles, fairness and thoughtfulness with Judge Kavanaugh, that is the unforgiveable sin to the pack that wants to run her down and tear her to pieces. Such is the fate of treowth tellers.

“And this is why the great American Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor said that the truth will not only set you free, it will make you odd.” Charles J. Chaput (New York, Henry Holt, 2017, 110)

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Colony_House

[ii] John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins (New York: Arcade, 2011), 543

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Safe Sex

“Time Magazine and Francis Fukuyama, Raquel Welch and a series of Popes, some of the world’s leading scientists, and many other unlikely allies all agree: No single event since Eve took the apple has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception.”  ‘Adam and Eve after the Pill, Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution,’ Mary Eberstadt, 2012

Quite a few years ago, because of our work with youth and engaged couples, we were asked to give a talk on sex to a group of high school age students. At one point during the talk, while Rita was starting to talk about HIV and the thirty or more sexually transmitted diseases ripping like a prairie fire through young and old alike, I was quietly off in the front corner of the classroom getting dressed.

 I put on surgical room booties, surgical scrubs, mask, goggles, cap, and I double gloved with latex. By the time I was fully garbed, of course, even though I hadn’t spoken a word, I had their full attention. I held up my other prop, a sad, deflated condom[i]. In their health classes in public high schools, much had been made of “safe sex:” condoms being stretched over bananas and other directives of socially acceptable orthodoxy regarding such things for teenagers. I said, “What I have on is what medical practitioners do to protect themselves from AIDS and HIV infections (along with hepatitis, gonorrhea, syphilis herpes and all the rest). Holding up the shriveled latex penis cover, I said, “And this is what they tell you is going to protect you.”   Let’s look at that a bit.

Theatrical, perhaps, but they weren’t hearing this anyplace else, so we may as well have made it memorable. I pulled out my other props: a basketball hoop with the net tied at the bottom with twine, a basketball, a two-gallon metal bucket and a package of BBs. We asked them what the failure rate was for adults within a given year for condoms to prevent pregnancy. The manufacturers will tell you 98%. The statisticians clarify. Yes, 98% if used perfectly every time, but in real life with real people, condoms, if used as the sole means of contraception, fail at a 15% rate within a year.  Do you think young people in the heat of the back seat or couch or beach blanket are going to be able to attain perfection?  More often or less often than 85%?

Next, I asked how many days a month can a girl achieve a pregnancy? The answer is two or less as her egg travels down the fallopian tube. Fertilized, the egg morphs almost instantly into a tiny, tiny human being with all the unique DNA information necessary for maturity. Next, the new minute human implants in the uterine lining, utterly transforms the young woman’s body into a perfect baby nurturing environment and begins the growth with which each one of us started. Basic embryology. Unfertilized, it is flushed out of her body in the normal cycle of menstruation. The male sperm lives for between twelve hours and at the outside seven days. Usually, it lasts less than five days. To be safe, let’s use the outside range of egg and sperm for a total of nine days. I then asked them how many days a month can a sexually transmitted disease transmit?  “All of them,” our bright students correctly answered. If imperfectly used condoms normally fail at a 15% rate to block a pregnancy, how will they hold up against STDs? Not an inconsequential question.

What happened to the basketball and the BBs? The last piece for them. I popped the basketball into the tied net, and we all watched it hang up, trapped. Finally, I put the tin bucket under the net and poured in the BBs. Clamorous metal noise commenced. I asked what is the ratio in size of a human sperm to a Human Immunodeficiency Virus? Are you ahead of me? Basketball to a BB is the answer.  How was that 15% looking now?  Is Russian Roulette with only one bullet in the cylinder safer than two?  We ended the science conversation by telling them that their best protection against pregnancies for which they were nowhere near ready to be responsible or against sexually transmitted disease, sometimes incurable, was not between their legs, but between their ears.

“She with whom I had lived so long was torn from my side as a hindrance to my forthcoming marriage. My heart which had held her very dear was broken and wounded and shed blood.” ‘Confessions, Book Six, Chapter Fifteen’ St. Augustine

After the science lesson, we discussed with them that sex had been both made too much of and trivialized in what they saw and heard everywhere in our oversexualized culture. Undoubtedly, sex is important to human closeness in men and woman relationships, but it is not the whole truth, or even the most important truth, about intimacy. In most of what they read and watch, sex is distorted, limited to a binary viewpoint- either fantasy graphic or fantasy romantic, utilitarian porn or Cinderella. What is the true end, the whole, the nature of, the ‘final cause,’ the purpose of sex? To strengthen the union between men and women in the most personal of ways? Yes.   Also, to develop new human life, form families, continue our species? Just so. A two-fold purpose deep in our nature, inextricably entwined.  Unitive and procreative. Who tells the young of this? What terrible responsibility do we shirk in not doing so?

The union of the sexual act is both profoundly real and profoundly symbolic.[ii] But it is only one aspect of the intimacy of man and woman. Total vulnerability and openness. Total gift of one to the other. Total trust and sharing of our dreams, hopes, fears and fragility. Total openness to new life, both within us and separate from us. Centered hopefully on vows of permanence one to the other necessary for family and optimum child rearing. Not quick hook ups: pneumatic encounters with quick fix orgasms to assuage our powerful drives or to prop up our drooping egos.  Each urgent event possibly short circuiting other less urgently compelling communication so necessary to our long term mental, psychological and spiritual health. Each casual or frenetic sexual encounter with underwear quickly discarded on the floor requires protection, but not condoms: soul protection, cauterizing nerves, connections, sealing off part of our self that will diminish our capacity to truly share ourselves with another person. Each ephemeral encounter first exposing, then hardening by necessity those aspects of our uniqueness and personality that are best healed and nurtured by vulnerability and by love. Love of the other for the other, not a selfish yearning for reciprocity out of bottomless need, but sacrificial and total. Love as deeply desiring the good of the other, for the other, not ourselves. In the light, not the darkness. Therein lies the power and the presence. Sexual intimacy rooted in this love is all in. Nothing held back. No barriers.

In the end ‘sex’ and ‘safe’ are alien to one another. Sex is not safe. It is not supposed to be.

“In the ‘Republic,’ the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly what was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with it a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart.’” C.S Lewis quoting Plato in his “Abolition of Man” in the chapter “Men Without Chests.”

 

 

 

[i] Too many words needed to address the disconnectedness of condoms. They are a barrier method of contraception with all that implies. As cuddly, close and intimate as spooning with your beloved while wrapped in aluminum foil.

[ii] See Ephesians 5:31-33. Far beyond the scope or abilities of this blog post or blogger to investigate marriage as sign and symbol of God’s intimacy and love for His people.

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Transitions

Guest blog post – Rita Parquette

In the mid-seventies, I worked as an obstetrical nurse in the labor and delivery rooms of Augusta General Hospital in Maine. Post Roe v Wade, the transition was well underway from abortion as a rare medical necessity to save the life of the mother to common. We witnessed the practice grow from rare to wildfire – sixty million in the U.S. since those early days. The near religious fervor of the pro-abortion lobby seeking ever fewer constraints placed on killing their offspring, at first was a small minority, but well financed. They rode a wave of ironically named ‘liberation’ and ran over all compunctions and objections. Roe was the most liberal decision regarding abortion in the world at that time.  It allowed abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.

During that time, nurses were sometimes demeaned by a few doctors, but they held firm as they were able. One firm stand for many of us was abortion. We observed with justified concern the decreasing empathy and hardening treatment of both mothers and babies from those doctors who shared one characteristic in their practices: they added abortion provider to their resumes. The doctors plying the termination trade were having difficulty finding OR nurses to attend them in the Augusta General operating room in the basement; at one point the head nurse on the upper OB floor asked us to “help out our doctors.” We refused. Our job was healing and preserving, not deliberately taking life. This was not a religious decision, but a humanitarian one and conformed to the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

“Those eyes that had hardly opened to the light of the earthly sun forever and ever were closed to the light of the earthly sun…” From “God Speaks,” “Holy Innocents” Charles Peguy

One anecdote remains always vivid in my memory and haunts me to this day, nearly forty-five years later. On a typical busy evening, I was helping two young mothers in labor. We had moved on from the scopolamine doping of women to more humane and dignified obstetrical practices. My practice was to try and calm their fear, then guide them through controlled breathing and relaxation techniques.  One of my patients was only about sixteen weeks pregnant, and we had no neo-natal intensive care facilities in Augusta. Optimally we would attempt to arrest her sporadic and weak contractions. Standard practice was to start an IV. Hydration and improved electrolyte balance at times could stop premature labor, and the pregnancy could proceed to term. Not that night.

Dr. R, one of the more zealous of the pro-abortion OB/GYN practitioners, entered the labor room and spoke briefly to the young mother; I was busy with another patient and not privy to the conversation. He then strode over and instructed me curtly to put an ampule of Pitocin into the IV.  Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, which is a natural powerful hormone that induces more rapid and stronger contractions to intensify labor.  We were trying to retard labor or stop it to give the baby her best chance, so I was surprised, then aghast. I refused and told him that if he wanted Pitocin into that IV, he would have to do it himself! We used metal folding clipboards for medical charts. While I was busy standing at the nurse’s high station writing my own notes, he flung this patient’s metal chart about five feet, hard, and hit me on my left side in the ribs. I never saw it coming. Then he added the Pitocin into the IV. The labor intensified.  I was there for the mother and her baby.  I monitored the babies heart beat with a fetal stethoscope and told the mother I was getting a good heart beat and added that information to my notes.

Inevitably she was ready for delivery and wheeled into the delivery room. At this point, Dr. R’s friend, an anesthesiologist entered the scene.  We had many wonderful doctors at our hospital, but Dr. R and this particular anesthesiologist were not among them.   This anesthesiologist’s favorite way to summon a nurse was to whistle with two fingers in his mouth.  He put my patient deeply under, something rarely done because of risk to the newborn infant. The Pitocin accelerated labor, delivery ran its predictable course, and the unconscious mother delivered her tiny baby girl.  Dr. R dropped the baby into a stainless-steel basin nearby normally used to receive the placenta. He finished up quickly and left the delivery room before the mother awoke.

Immediately, a nursery nurse, whom I had already warned about the coming of this small baby, rescued the baby from her cold metal refuse bucket, wrapped and carried her to the newborn warming station where she suctioned her in a futile attempt to clear her breathing passages and stimulate breathing. She then rubbed and did her best to comfort this tiny girl. After over ten minutes without a breath, her heart ceased its beat.  The scene felt surreal to me; I was out of sync with the events and with the doctors – like a dream, a disturbing dream. I did not know what else I could do. Something like this had never happened to me or the other nurse.

Epilogue reflections:

When the mother woke from the anesthesia, I told her that her baby was born with a heartbeat but was unable to breath. Still somewhat drowsy, I tried to comfort her, but she seemed hard to reach.  I think she too might have felt like she was in a surreal world and not sure how she got there.  After her discharge, the mother called a mortician and a funeral was held.  The funeral home director received the doctor’s notes, my nurse’s notes and the notes of the nursery nurse who had done her best for the baby. Both doctors described the little girl as macerated, born dead, indeed they agreed she had been dead for a while. Both sets of nurse’s notes described her true condition. Since medical notes can wind up as legal documents, the funeral director notified the hospital administrator of the discrepancy and conflicting narratives. When the nursing supervisor for our shift came to me for an explanation, I assured her the nurse’s notes were the accurate ones and explained exactly what happened. She gave me a knowing look, and I never heard another word.

A couple of years later, when we had returned to the faith of our youth, I confessed this incident to our pastor, who remains a dear friend to this day. He suggested lovingly that in the circumstances I tried my best and that I needed to forgive myself. Father Joe further suggested that I should name the baby and pray for her mom and for all that had happened around that difficult night.  I named her Gabriella and do pray about this still. I hope to see her again some fine day and have a conversation.

A final related episode comes to mind. The equally troubled nursery room nurse had a discussion with an experienced and humane pediatrician the next day. She explained to him what had happened and asked if we had done the right thing in trying to save her and delivering all the professional care we could muster for that little girl. He smiled sadly and looked into her eyes. He assured her, “Where there is life, there is always hope.”

 “I AM says God, Master of the Three Virtues.  Faith is a faithful wife. Charity is an ardent mother. But Hope is a tiny girl.” “God Speaks, “Hope” Charles Peguy

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Diner

“Everyone is entitled to his own nostalgia.”  James Wolcott

We have long favored funky short order breakfast diners in small towns; eggs over easy with crisp bacon and superlative home fries, especially accompanied by a ‘never empty’ cup of better than average coffee with the good company of diner regulars is one of our favorite dates and has been for fifty years. Only a slightly overweight waitress with a quick, knowing smile could improve upon the experience, and often does. Not sure why. This may indicate a skewed character with some undefined deep flaw yet identified. But I’m comfortable with the risk.

Earlier this week we headed to pick up our completed tax returns at the office in Swansea, where they have been calculated for us for over twenty-five years. I was coming from a predawn visit to the gym followed by a semi-annual doctor’s checkup. No prior time for breakfast, so we stopped at a local diner we had not previously tried. Another guilty pleasure is checking out new diners. One stop is sufficient to rate the home fries and coffee; the rest of breakfast is hard to ruin. Whether we ever go a second time is almost entirely based on those two criteria. The parking lot was full of clearly local cars with only a couple less than five years old. A good sign.

The menu was on the chalk board and one simple sheet of paper encapsulated in plastic. Each item was unembellished with elaborate description. The specials included an omelet with a spicy Portuguese sausage. The odor was coffee, bacon with a faint overtone of old grease and a combination of worn wood and linoleum curled in the corners. White eight by eleven notices were pinned to a bulletin board and taped on some windows advertising local handyman services, school plays and an upcoming meeting at town hall regarding changing rules at the transfer and recycling station.

The waitress was just this side of indifferent, but wary and quick to our booth. Perfect. Most of the tables were occupied and almost every round red Naugahyde stool on a stainless-steel post at the counter had an ample behind on it, even a few plumber’s cracks. Knowing laughter at the counter with a well-known customer. Our waitress pretended shock, smiled lasciviously, and proclaimed for the room, “And you kiss your mutha with that mouth!” She was not crabbing over towards a safe space.  We were for the most part ignored by the regulars, but it was a benign neglect. Catch an eye and get a quick smile, but the furtive eye was not easily caught. Most were involved in conversation with two or three fellow diners, conversations that started twenty years ago with daily or weekly updates.

“I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” William F. Buckley

In my experience, the regular customers of a local diner are the same everywhere, just different in specifics. This week’s morning crowd was mostly north of sixty, more men than women, some seventies carry over long hair, a couple of beards and a few unshaven, but clean faced maybe a week or so ago. Although the place didn’t allow smoking inside, quite a few of the diners sported a pair of nicotine stained fingers and looked like they’d be more comfortable with a cigarette smoldering in an ashtray near their coffee mug.  Without taking a poll, I assume most did not have many letters after their signature. A half dozen or so looked well educated in their green youth, but their schooling was not at Brown or Rhode Island School of Design, more likely in the Mekong Delta or Khe Sanh.  Three or four of the tin ceiling panels had been replaced with posters honoring diners who no longer could eat breakfast there, grease dimmed posters with names, ranks, nicknames like Doc and Gunny, medals, military outfits and mottos. One customer sat by himself wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and a thousand-yard stare, drinking coffee, but had no breakfast on the counter.

The most recent candidate of the people famously classified the diner’s good folks as deplorables, and the remark may have cost her the presidency.  Their hands are calloused, and their backs stooped a bit with wear and tear. They believe in a functioning border, but for the most part lack xenophobia; working hard was valued, not working was not.  Marriage and family, even though some failed at it, was assumed to be the basic unit of a well-ordered society, and marriage is between one man and one woman with children the natural expectation and responsibility.  Almost universally, they knew something vital was bleeding out in a culture they wanted desperately to preserve. Maybe it couldn’t be well articulated, but they would vote to try to stem the loss. I prefer their company to the sophisticated most of the time.

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”  Harper Lee

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Winter Views

“Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man.”  Cardinal John Henry Newman

As each year closes, we find ourselves retrospective, along with everyone else. Newspapers, magazines, and television are awash with ‘best of’ and ‘top ten’ lists of everything from sports events and politics to movies and songs. Even Pandora sent me a list of what I liked last year and how much and to what I listened. A little spooky – like the intrusive proliferation of ads for products or events peripherally related to what I mouse clicked on a Google search or liked on a Facebook post.

This year end I ponder what has happened to once perfectly useful words. Remember “diversity,” which once implied a dialogue of different ideas with civil discourse, point and counterpoint, reasoned debate? Now the word is withered and alludes to a loose tolerance (there’s another shrunken word) of sexual proclivities and racial or ethnic make-up. Even of changing our gender, as if the XY or XX chromosomes embedded in every cell could be expunged with mutilative surgery, ill-advised hormone shots and a change in wardrobe. Such miscreant, truncated tolerance undoubtedly fails to embrace the dissidents who choose to not bake wedding cakes or to not provide chemicals to kill our offspring. They are hammered flat on the anvil of ‘progressive’ law. But I digress.

Another pernicious word that has been transformed to our great harm is “values.” We must form our lives around our values, live our values, expound on our values, etc. Of course, values are malleable, just as we once variably valued our possessions, our pets, our Bitcoins, our portfolio; they change and are negotiable, subjective and subject to the market. We rummage around and indifferently agree on a value, so that the easy or the trendy prevails. Or what tickles our erogenous zones and assuages our guilt (another perfectly good word ruined by consignment to mere neurosis). We are “distracted from distraction by distractions.”[i]

Whatever happened to “principles?” Principles are drilled into bedrock, in objective truth, and it is that objective truth which became suspect. Your principle is my punchline; who’s to say? Four hundred generations of human wisdom has been found wanting. Principles abandoned, replaced by tepid, washed out ‘values’: timid, reticent replacements. ‘Truth’ replaced by “I’m OK, You’re OK.” ‘Good’ replaced by ‘nice.’ ‘Freedom’ replaced by ‘license.’ ‘Virtue’ replaced by vague platitude.

“(A republic) is only to be supported by pure Religion or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private (virtue), and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.” John Adams

“And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”  Farewell Address, George Washington

 Without exception the Founding Fathers of our country knew that a virtuous people with a common bond of shared morality were necessary for this most messy form of self-government. The breakdown of a shared base of Judeo Christian morality and a communal language of stable principles is a great danger to our country. David French wrote a thoughtful, year-end article in National Review.[ii] It begins, “If I had to pick one of the most under-appreciated and under-reported stories of 2017, it would be that a post-Christian America is a more vicious America, and that the triumph of secularists is rendering America more polarized, not less. Remove from the public square biblical admonitions such as “love your enemies” and the hatred has more room to grow. When the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — wither, then the culture is far more coarse.”  Is there any dispute that our public argument has become more polarized, less reasoned and more vitriolic? Are we yelling more epithets at each other and at our political adversaries with bumper sticker, vulgar, repetitive talking points parroted from one website to another? Are we debating the issues or lazily calling each other morons, pond-scum, or far worse? Are we listening to anyone other than our fellow true believers?

When discussion is stifled, shouted down with curses and condemnation, and when dissent from the current orthodoxy of “diversity” and “tolerance” is threatened not just by intelligent counterpoint, but by lawsuit, the law itself or violence, can despotism be far behind?  Does the loudest impassioned scream settle the debate?

We saw in the late, unlamented twentieth century, the most murderous in human history by far, the natural consequences of tyranny that chose atheism, arrogance and division over peace with mutual respect for the dignity of human beings.  Like a grotesque planetary natural experiment, it recurred so many horrific times in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist China, North Korea, Cuba and Cambodia and the endless “people’s” revolutions of Africa and South America. Power overwhelmed, and the innocent died.

If we lack even a common language with agreed upon terms, how do we talk about anything? If truth is defined as subjective and amorphous rather than as objective and solid, where do we begin? Is objective moral truth an illusory myth, or is moral law an element of nature like gravity with necessary and inevitable consequences for disregarding it?

To digress briefly once again, one of the fascinating stories of 2017 was a verification of the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity. The most dramatic instance in 2017 was confirmed with what the scientists define as “multi messenger astronomy”: an event detectable and verified across many studies like gravitational waves confirmed with concurrent or nearly concurrent gamma ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared and radio waves logged in multiple observatories.

Such was the case with the first ever detection of the merging of binary neutron stars, another proof of Einstein’s predictions. In a galaxy far, far away (130 million light years give or take a few billion miles), two massive dead stars orbited each other for ten thousand centuries or more, growing ever closer as gravity inexorably, infinitely slowly, drew them together. As they approached their finish as a binary system, the dense, lightless stars whirled ever more rapidly about each other, quickening to many hundreds of orbital revolutions a second.  When ultimately, they collided and merged in seconds, astonishing amounts of energy, including gravitational waves escaped. This cataclysm occurred millions of years before any human being looked to the skies, but when the waves caught up to us, like time travelers, in August of 2017, we saw and heard.[iii]

Whether we will it so or wish it so, gravitational waves have their way with us. They wash over us. They and gravity’s repercussions exist whether we believe them to be true or not. Can you feel the waves?  Can you feel them?

  “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”  Bob Dylan

[i] From T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot:

Neither plenitude nor vacancy.  Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before time and after.

[ii] “Can America Survive as a Post-Christian Nation?” David French, National Review, December 2017

[iii] “When Neutron Stars Collide,” Govert Shilling, Sky and Telescope Magazine, February 2018

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Ironies

“It is innocence that is born and experience that dies.

It is innocence that knows and experience that

does not know.

It is the child who is full and the man who is empty.”

From “Innocence and Experience” in “God Speaks,” Charles Péguy

 

“That’s not fair!” screams the fuming child. And sometimes they’re right. An outraged young child is quick to spot hypocrisy and irony, and it is the adult who points out in our maturity how sometimes it is necessary to tolerate a bit of it, to comprehend the subtlety, to live with the accepted cruelty and how life isn’t always fair. And sometimes we’re right. And sometimes we’re rationalizing the irrational.

Several stories and threads have prompted a “that’s not fair!” reaction from me, and perhaps the adult in me must learn to adjust my expectations of justice and accommodate the irony of that adjustment. Comes with maturity and experience, I’m sure.

Cecile Richards, the million-dollar compensated president of Planned Parenthood, complained, “I’m infuriated. “I’m heartbroken,” when describing her reaction to President Trump’s decision to put immigration reform back where it should be with Congress by reversing the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) executive actions of President Obama. Let me state up front, I have great sympathy for the plight of immigrants and Dreamers, and profoundly hope for a just and compassionate permanent resolution and have written to my representatives and senators in support of a solution. But to get back to Ms. Richards, she continued, “Here at Planned Parenthood, we firmly believe that every person has the right to live….” Huh? Her organization profits greatly by taking the lives of over 320,000 pre-born humans each year, presumably with their own “right to live.” Irony doesn’t seem to quite cover it.

In a somewhat related irony, the New York Times, among others, made it a campaign to excoriate and ruin David Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress. If you can remember and stomach the videos, the CMP published on line a series of exposé videos of Planned Parenthood showing PP executives bargaining for better prices to sell baby parts and laughing over cocktails about some of the amusing incidents that occur when they diligently apply their skills to crush skulls to save hearts, livers and lungs or crush hearts, livers and lungs to save intact skulls and brains to maximize the profits. At the same time, the NYT’s ran a whole series based on undercover videos about the gratuitous cruelty of Big Farming slaughterhouse practices. Perhaps the quote of Ingrid Newkirk (founder of PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy,” should at least infer that the boy might have the same rights as the rat, dog and pig, but I suppose that asks too much. Great article on this by Mary Eberstadt of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “Why Animal Lovers Should Abhor Planned Parenthood.”

 “Truth is too simple for us: we do not like those who unmask our illusions.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Occasionally public figures inexplicably give us an unexpected glimpse into their inmost thoughts. Such was the case in 2009 when in an interview with Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this about the archetype judicial activism decision, Roe v Wade, in 1973, “Frankly I thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” Ah, so it is revealed. Margaret Sanger, the founder of the country’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, made no secret of her eugenics agenda and her disdain for the poor, the immigrant, the minority who so heedlessly breed children. [i] Apparently, Ms. Sanger’s intellectual offspring have retained her biases and her program.

“Not so!” you protest. “Current practitioners of the craft of baby dismembering are not eugenicist and racist!” Just so. Since over 78% of Planned Parenthood clinics are within walking distances of minority neighborhoods, and over thirty percent of abortions are perpetrated on the eleven percent of the population that is black, one must reflect if Sanger’s successors are just more adept in hiding the motivation behind their campaign.

The intensity and animosity between the ideologically estranged seems to deepen by the week.  “Repugnant Cultural Others” are group defined, self-defined. We use them as a mechanism in our human predisposition for what Cass Susstein named “global polarization” in 1998, that tendency to become increasingly radicalized in our opinions and proposed remedies as well as self-limiting our choices for conversation and reasoned discourse. Circumscribing our lives by drawing an inclusion/exclusion circle by meticulously defining our RCOs and taking great care to leave them out in the cold.

So those opposed to (or who favor) gun control (or abortion or for quelling global warming) talk only to each other, become more convinced of the righteousness of their position and move more radically towards the poles pushing for drastic action.[ii]   Since the kindling of the social media wildfire, this phenomenon has exponentially intensified. Only a few minutes reading posts about opinions with which the posting disagrees proves the point, using terms like “moron” or “hopeless idiot” or “evil” or expletive deleted. Tallying “Likes” has replaced moral debate.

Subsequent generations also seem to worsen incrementally. Sometimes the apple falls from the tree and rolls way down the hill. Such seemed the case with a previous Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., son of the esteemed poet and professor of the same name. Justice Ginsburg was not the first Supreme to promote a draconian solution for those troubling other human beings who were not worthy of breathing the same rarified air as the self-satisfied elites. Justice Holmes advocated publicly for “sterilizing idiots.” Since his father, I expect, never imagined a society in which he would live that would contemplate such things, there is one final irony for today, and not a comforting one.

“For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

[i] See prior post, Maggie, Part Two

[ii] See “The Law of Global Polarization,” Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago Law School, John M Olin Law and Economics Working Paper No. 91 12/7/1999 Available free on line: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/Publications/Working/Index.html

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