"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Being Defensive

Once again, I seem to have slipped into humble mode and neglected to plug my latest article. Well, it's still April 12 for another two hours, so the oversight is not entirely beyond rectification.

My article in today's American Spectator traced the origin of the principle of self-defense in law from the Bible through the Talmud and all the way to Maimonides and his prime commentators. I also point out a distinction between Good Samaritan imtervention on behalf of a potential victim and the victim's right to strike back himself.

Dog the Bounty Hunter

I haven't seen the A&E Network reality show Dog the Bounty Hunter, but Catherine Seipp's insightful review on National Review Online today almost persuades me to do so. Almost. Her central thought is quite interesting and liberal-minded:

"Dog and his motley crew of Hawaii-based bounty hunters (most of whom are related to him in one way or another) do look rather disreputable, with their mullet haircuts and all that leather. But the charm of the reality series is the juxtaposition of this with their determined, straight-arrow decency."

I have noticed the same thing in regard to the Discovery Channel program American Chopper, which follows the adventures of a family that designs and builds custom motorcycles. The central characters look like a bunch of mugs, but they work hard and are clearly quite creative.

We human beings have a tendency to equate appearance with goodness, and Seipp's observation usefully reminds us that looks can be deceiving. Perhaps I shall take a look at this program sometime after all.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Theologically Liberal and Influential . . .

Question for the readers: Who is the most influential theological liberal in the United States? We can easily reel off the influential theological conservatives like Dobson, Colson, and Neuhaus, who are explicity religious and polito-cultural at the same time. Who is that person or persons among theological liberals? My thesis is that we can't find anyone to compete. Love to see any names you provide.

Military Attache?

Capitol Police were wise to tackle a man who brought two suitcases to visit Congress. You always need to watch out when they bring Samsonite among the Philistines - sounds like the signature of a suicide bomber.

Center for Naturalism Round-up

Mega-blogger Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost put together a collection of blog postings about the new Center for Naturalism, which officially outs the point of view as a particular perspective rather than THE WAY THINGS ARE.

Apparently, the director of the new center took Carter to task for excessive harshness. Good point. However, he couched his plea for tolerance in a rhetoric of equivalent treatment for Jews, Muslims, etc. Again, the point is made. We've been looking for that sort of equality for a long time WITH NATURALISM in the public square.

Check out the collection here. Note: Carter includes comments from Reform Club.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

What's In An Aim?

Things are not always as they appear.

Cardinal Sin, the Phillipine prelate in the 1980s, was a good guy who helped to unseat Marcos and his kleptocratic government.

Cardinal Law, on the other hand, turned out to have been a bad guy, covering up in his Boston diocese for a number of abuser priests.

I guess it all depends on what's in your heart.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Great Paul Henning

Paul Henning, who died this week at the age of 92, was one of the most underrated comic writers of our time. Henning began working in Hollywood in 1950 as a writer for the excellent George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. A hallmark of that pioneering TV comedy series was its cheerful absurdity--it went further in that direction than any other TV show of the time except possibly The Jack Benny Program. George would talk directly to the camera, and Gracie would get the pair into the most insane escapades possible. Their dialogue together, with George patiently trying to make sense of Gracie's bizarre leaps of logic and ridiculous misunderstandings of simple language, is classic comedy. The show remains entertaining even when watched today.

During the rest of the 1950s, Henning went on to write for TV shows featuring Dennis Day, Ray Bolger, Bob Cummings, and Walter Brennan. He also wrote the script for one of the best early Andy Griffith Show episodes ("Crime-Free Mayberry," 1961) and those for two feature film satirical comedies, Lover Come Back and Bedtime Story.

However, the achievement for which he will be best—and justly—rememembered is the three 1960s sitcoms he created and produced: The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. These three programs tracked the change of the United States from a rural nation to an urban one, and they considered what was gained and lost, through zany comedy reminiscent of Robert Benchley and S. J. Perelman.

The concept of The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971) is well-known, of course, but what is perhaps insufficiently appreciated is the level of satire the show achieved. It is difficult to say which is more ridiculous: the naive folk culture of the Clampett family, or the insane greed and status consciousness of their Beverly Hills neighbors. No matter, for Henning was not using the show to score political points or twig social enemies; it is clear that he was just looking at the world around him and finding it immensely funny. Anyone watching the program will do so as well, if in possession of any kind of a sense of humor. The show is being rerun on TVLand at present, I believe, and is well worth watching.

Petticoat Junction (1962-1970, canceled, along with Henning's other shows, in a CBS purge of programs deemed as too rural and insufficiently swingin' for late-'60s younguns—even though all three shows were still pulling very high ratings), took place in the bucolic, small town of Hooterville, Kansas. Here the folk culture is the norm, and it is portrayed as charming but often stupid and insane, and the incursions of the modern world, and in particular modern culture, on the town make for some interesting social satire. The concept of the program was not nearly as strong as that of The Beverly Hillbillies, but it has the advantage of being rather more pleasant to watch, as the characters are not as disturbed as those of the earlier show.

The capstone of Henning's career, and his claim to greatness, is Green Acres (1965-1971). Telling the story of New York attorney Oliver Wendell Douglas, who moves his wealth- and status-conscious wife with him to live in blessed simplicity in Hooterville, Kansas, the program is, in my view, the funniest situation comedy on television ever. (Funniest show overall, in my opinion, was SCTV Comedy Network, for those who may be wondering.) I believe that Green Acres is currently running on TVLand. The first season is available on DVD.

Green Acres is simply pure comedy. Whatever was funny, went in, and whatever wasn't, didn't. From Fred Ziffel's sarcasm to Lisa's cluelessness to Oliver's stubbornness to Mr. Haney's greed to Hank Kimball's indecisiveness to Arnold Ziffel's unexpected genius and on and gloriously on, the show's effect was based on the comedy of humors, of characters whose differing personality types result in endless comic conflicts. Of course, much of this plays out in a highly satirical form that spoke not only to late-1960s culture but also has meaning today, but the finest thing about the show is that the satire is organic, arising directly from the characters and situations, not forced upon a structure that cannot handle it.

If you want to see the roots of Henning's humor in Green Acres and his other programs, look to Ben Jonson, Moliere, and the like. Henning is not nearly on their level, of course, but he compares favorably to second-tier comic geniuses such as Holberg. His kind of humor is always refreshing and delightful, and I dearly wish there were more comic writers like him working today.

From Darwin to Hitler

Studying religion and politics as I do, I've noticed that Christians are often tagged with the massive moral bill, so to speak, for the Holocaust. That ain't exactly fair. The recently released book, From Darwin to Hitler, helps explain why. I'm including the full review from Donal O'Mathuna:

Book Review: From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany by Richard Weikart

Reviewed by Donal O'Mathuna:

Weikart has provided bioethicists with an excellent resource in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). He summarizes the writings of many prominent German scientists, philosophers, and popularizers who wrote during the period between Darwin and Hitler. His book demonstrates a thorough understanding of the primary sources and clearly presents their perspectives on ethics, on human worth and the notion of those unfit to survive, and on the legitimacy of eliminating the unfit and inferior.

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species set off a chain reaction that impacted just about every field of study. Although Darwin himself initially tried to avoid dealing with the human implications of evolution, he stated in his Autobiography that someone, like himself, who doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife, “can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best one” (quoted on p. 21).

A number of German thinkers, in particular Ernst Haeckel, were to seize on this idea and use it to develop an ethic they believed was based on science. This view was monistic, deterministic, and relativistic. Weikart shows how underlying many of these thinkers was a determination to reject the two dominant ethical systems of that time: Christianity and Kantian ethics. Foremost amongst the problems these thinkers had with Christianity was its claim to moral absolutes and its concern for the weak and vulnerable.

Their problem with the latter was how it contradicted the one moral absolute of social Darwinism. In spite of their adherence to relativism, Weikart demonstrates from the primary sources that evolutionary progress was the goal by which morality was to be evaluated. Decisions and policies that promoted survival of the fittest were thereby viewed as ethical. It was thus a relatively small move to promote the elimination of the ‘unfit.’

Weikart traces the development of these ideas over several decades until they impact the thinking of Adolf Hitler. He acknowledges the difficulty of specifically identifying the ideas that contributed to Hitler’s final ideology. However, a very discomforting conclusion of this development, is how it shows that Hitler’s conclusions were not primarily those of a madman. Rather, “they were mainstream ideas of respectable, leading thinkers in the German academic community” (p. 225).

This is what makes Weikart’s book an important contribution to bioethics. Many of the same beliefs of social Darwinism at the beginning of the twentieth century are once again being promoted today: that certain lives are not worth living, that human life needs to be unsanctified, that ethics is relative, and that science has all the answers. The same academic groundwork is being laid to justify technological developments like embryo grading, infanticide, and euthanasia. Those opposed to these developments can learn much from how the Nazi policies came to be proposed, accepted, and implemented. Richard Weikart has made the historical documents accessible in an engaging format. History shows how important it is for us to combat the current, similar trends.

Dónal P. O’Mathúna, Ph.D.Lecturer in EthicsDublin City University, Ireland

Sin City: While We Wait for Karnick

National Review film critic and Baylor University Dean of the Honors College Tom Hibbs has reviewed Sin City for NRO. Though I know Hibbs and have had the chance to talk film with him at a restaurant that absolutely refused to bring our check to the table, I remain loyal to the work of "the greatest living film critic in the English language," S.T. Karnick.

Nevertheless, Mr. Karnick has ceased to produce early release criticism, so we'll have to settle for some Hibbs-ian stylings about this black and white gorefest:

Although Tarantino gets a director’s credit for assisting on a certain segment of the film, the central vision — and full director’s credit — is Miller’s, with assistance from Robert Rodriguez. The devotion to Miller’s sacred text is apparent throughout, but the decision to use easily recognizable actors such as Elijah Wood, Benicio del Toro, Jessica Alba, and Bruce Willis gives Sin City the feel of a Tarantino satire on pop culture. The viewer cannot help but be distracted from Miller’s vision into thinking, “That’s Bruce Willis reprising his role from Die Hard or Pulp Fiction,” or muttering, “Wow, that’s Benicio del Toro whose skull has just been turned into a ‘pez dispenser,’” or wondering, “Is that actually Elijah Wood playing a rapist-cannibal in league with the local Catholic cardinal?”

Media talking heads have been bubbling about the timing of Sin City’s rise to the top of the charts on the very weekend during which Pope John Paul II died. A dramatic contrast to be sure, but beyond that it is not clear what the point of the media attention is. The timing was of course pure coincidence, unless we think the pope held on just to provide a counterpoint to decadent American film. Nor is such a contrast unprecedented. Just last year, The Passion was unseated from its number-one ranking by Kill Bill, Volume II. Sin City’s in-your-face mockery of religion locates the Catholic clergy and its sacramental system at the very heart of this corrupt world.

More on the Center for Naturalism!

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost went further than I did in pointing out the silliness of the Center for Naturalism's prescriptions for the good life. You can read his take here.

I've excerpted a brief portion of his remarks:

My favorite line from the article (referring to an article on the website) is this gem of self-delusional rationalization:

"That we are alive and sentient, with the capacity to form an understanding, however provisional, is the source of much amazement to the naturalist, since after all, none of what we consist of is sentient."

Think about what is being claimed: A human is indistinguishable from nature and comprised completely of physical matter; not one molecule in our bodies is sentient. Yet somehow when you combine all of these non-sentient molecules in the shape of a human being, a unique property magically arises.

What is amazing is not how this occurs but that people who claim to base their beliefs on scientifically-informed empiricism fall for such garden-variety mysticism.

I could literally go on for hours delving deeper into the unashamedly contradictory claims made by CFN. But for now I have to write a thank you note to Leitner and Dennett expressing my gratitude for their new venture. They have done more than any theist in exposing the absurdity of naturalism. All these years we’ve wasted our time on arguments and refutations when all we needed to do was have the naturalist explain what they truly believe.

Conservative Lecturers: Cheery Lemmings?

Both William Kristol and David Horowitz had pies thrown at them in universities over the past few days. Herewith my letter sent this morning to Mr. Kristol (I am a contributor to The Weekly Standard):

Dear Mr. K,

Here's hoping that all is well with you and yours....

....as we fervently deny experiencing any amusement at your getting pasted with the pastry.

Let's face it: academic waters are deep and roiling for a conservative, whether you row or wade. The good news is that this time they only got you with a pi, but who knows? Next time it could be an epsilon. And those are nasty. (I'm sure you recall the Wayne and Shuster routine with Flavius Maximus, the Roman Detective. When he gets the report about Julius Caesar that "Big Julie got stabbed", Flavius asks "Where did they get him?" "In the rotunda." "Ooh, that's painful.")

Still, unquestionably this is good for the Jews. In the past only Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter had to pay the piper by being pied; finally Jews have broken through the Glass Pie Dish, first you and then Horowitz. The organizations who provide kosher certification are overjoyed, as Entenmann and other pie-makers are rewarded for their fealty to Jewish needs.

As a device to enhance communication, this is... er, nonpareil. Your bringing a Soupy Sales sensibility to the conservative movement does much to blunt the old-fuddy-duddy image that has been an albatross around its neck and an anchor on its ankle. The pathos of the patisserie shows us the path. Worker bees of the world, unite!

But I imagine you can live without that kind of cool. You probably feel like answering what Yogi Berra did when the Mayor of New York's wife said, "Yogi, you look cool in that suit." Ever the gentleman, Yogi answered: "You don't look so hot yourself."

The good news is that the Liberals have been reduced to this: an incoherent, half-baked argument. It's time to declare victory and have the makeup girl clean up the battlefield.



Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Crazy Contradictions of Naturalism

Daniel Dennett, who once suggested religious persons might have to be kept in cages, and Brian Leiter, who writes tirelessly of the frightening Texas Taliban (which is all about people who send their children to fight the Taliban, but are somehow themselves Talibanesque), have come together in an advocacy group called The Center for Naturalism. Both are esteemed academicians, which gives an aspiring academician like me great pause.

What immediately struck me about the group is that it commits to the same bizarre reasoning employed by their forebear John Dewey. They tell us that we are the product of random forces and that there is no meaning to life, BUT then go on to make policy prescriptions for the good life! On the same page, Dewey could explain our meaningless rise from microbes and then go on to promote a just industrial order! What?!!!

Leiter and Dennett's group does the same thing. From their webpage:

Because it replaces traditional free will with a causal understanding of human development and behavior, naturalism has significant implications for social policy. For an overview, see the Policy page. The CFN’s policy areas include, but are not limited to:

Criminal justice – A naturalistic understanding of the causes of criminality helps undercut retributive attitudes favoring the
death penalty and punitive prison conditions, while building support for alternative sentencing and policies that address the conditions which generate crime and recidivism. Realizing that but for the luck of circumstances, any of us could standing in the criminal’s shoes, generates compassion for offenders as well as for victims. See Criminal Justice page and the Council on Crime and Causality initiative.

Social and economic inequality – Since on a naturalistic understanding, persons are not self-made, but owe their successes and failures to the conditions into which they were born and developed, major social and economic inequalities cannot be justified on the basis that individuals strongly deserve their status. CFN supports policies that will increase the material and psychological well-being of those who are unlucky in life, and that reduce the extreme disparities in income and opportunity so characteristic of our society. See for instance the
Progressive policy implications of naturalism.

For some reason I've yet to discern, the resort to meaningless ends in left-wing politics rather than nihilism. It doesn't make any sense and somewhere Bob Dole reminds us that he knows it, we know it, and the American people know it.

Sitting On Defense

Well, our California "colleagues" are getting some company from yours truly, who has been lobbing columns cross-country to the Sacramento Union. Today I use the Johnnie Cochran funeral as a springboard to ponder the role of the defense attorney in our society.

And here is a line that I cut for purposes of space and brevity, but I hated to drop: "Al Sharpton was there too, delivering an obsequious obsequy."

As I Was Saying

Herewith, a few responses (in italics) to Tlaloc, who offered thoughtful but utterly unpersuasive comments on my previous post "A Few Thoughts On Terri Schiavo" (March 30):

Tlaloc: I don't think you get to call it a "humble" opinion when you go ont [sic] to refer to the judges involved as morons.

That depends on how vacuous and worse one considers the judges' rulings to have been. As I said: I think Judge Greer deserves all the opprobrium he gets, I see little reason under the law to criticize the rulings of the higher Florida judges, and the federal judge who essentially ignored the law calling for a de novo review of Mrs. Schiavo's federal rights also is worthy of little respect.

Tlaloc: The potential conflict of interest is irrelevent since the court was being asked to make the decision rather than the guardian making it on his own. In effect for this one decision the court was the guardian.

It was the testimony of Mr. Schiavo and a couple of his relatives, years after the fact, that allowed Greer to make his finding of fact with respect to Mrs. Schiavo's wishes. For Greer to have ignored the conflict of interest and the testimony of other witnesses is inexcusable.

Tlaloc: Actually the Judge was remarkably insightful by refusing to allow a grotesque abuse of congressional power to be rewarded. The federal courts had no place in the matter. They said so repeatedly. When congress passed an incredibly badly thought out law to give the federal courts power over the case the Judge basically said "No, we still aren't touching it." As I've said before, thank god one branch of government is still actually doing it's job.

The federal courts have no place in the enforcement of federal law? Excuse me? Congress has the explicit power under the constitution to determine the jurisdiction of the federal courts, and the argument that Congress had no power to direct the federal courts to conduct a de novo review of Mrs. Schiavo's federal rights is preposterous.

Tlaloc: Jewish tradition is completely irrelevent.

Tlaloc certainly correct about the irrelevance of Jewish tradition in terms of the legal issues involved. But anyone reading my post ought to recognize easily that I had shifted from a legal/analytic argument to a normative (or moral) one.

Tlaloc: At a FACTUAL level everyone is dying, she was on life support according to Florida state law (which does include feeding tubes as life support), she did get therapy during the first three years at least.

Oh, please. "Everyone is dying." So: The government has the power to starve anyone who might or might not have made some ambiguous statement about not being kept on life support? Huh? Tlaloc may be correct about a feeding tube being defined as "life support" (I am not an attorney); but that riases more questions than it answers. Mrs. Schiavo apparently had never been given a swallowing test. Suppose she had passed one, and then was fed by hand: Would the spoon qualify as "life support?" What, precisely, is the analytic difference between a feeding tube and a spoon? Yes, she did get therapy for a few years, but not thereafter, despite Mr. Schiavo's testimony during the malpractice suit that the monetary damages payment would be used for her care. So much for the sanctity of marriage and for the reliability of Mr. Schiavo's statements with respect to his wife's wishes. All together now: Judge Greer is a moron.

Tlaloc: Now that's ironic given that republicans broke every promise they've ever made inorder [sic] to pander to their social conservative base. Bigger government, violating states rights, ignoring the "sanctity of marriage," and so on...

No doubt about it: Pandering is ubiquitous in politics; but I do not believe that to have been the driving force behind the efforts in Congress to direct the federal courts to conduct a de novo review of Schiavo's federal rights. (They were joined, after all, by a significant number of Democrats.) Bigger government? The Americans With Disabilities Act may be (well, is) unconstitutional; but it is the law, and for the death-with-dignity crowd to scream "States' Rights!" when Republicans invoke it is the height of hypocrisy. In any event, this is not "bigger government"; it is an attempt to prevent the states from violating an individual's federal rights. And that is why the "States' Rights!" argument is so facile; "State's Rights!" was the term used in the 1960s to denigrate civil rights legislation; does Tlaloc want to argue that states have the "right" to enforce Jim Crow? I rather doubt it. The implicit argument that a state has the "right" to starve a severely disabled individual to death is just appalling. And to apply a "sanctity of marriage" argument to the unique (or, perhaps not so unique) circumstances of the Schiavo case is, to be blunt, a joke. As I understand the facts, Mr. Schiavo never remembered the (apparently) offhand statements of his wife until years had passed. I will not take further space here with the sordid details of Mr. Schiavo's behavior.

Tlaloc: The Justice system proved itself to work rather well, it was congress, the president and the govenor of Florida who showed they were politicized and corrupt. The Judges consistently ruled according to the Law. Your disapproval and recourse to Jewish canon not withstanding that is their job.

Well, I guess we will have to agree to disagree. The judges' job is to enforce the law, and when they fail to do so other branches of government have every right and power to do so. After all, the courts are not supreme over the other branches, notwithstanding the apparent views of many. Mrs. Schiavo had rights under federal law that were not upheld, on the flimsy premise that her husband knew her wishes. At a more fundamental level, let us not mince words about the fundamental reality of the Schiavo case: A severely disabled woman was starved to death on the say-so of a husband with obvious conflicts of interest, and in the context of countervailing testimony from others without such conflicts. This is what the law demanded? Please....

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Adventures of Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow, who died today at the age of 89, was one of the very few first-rate American novelists of the past century. (He was born in Canada.) His early novels heralded a new, postwar direction in American fiction, toward a more private, confessional approach. Unlike much of what came after he set the tone in that form, his novels were strong on narrative drive. Bellow was a thinker as well as a writer, and his characters tended to ponder life's mysteries as they agonized over the choices before them.

One could say that Bellow was something of a Jewish Walker Percy. There was certainly a modern American Jewishness evident in Bellow's work, as his protagonists struggled to find their place in the world and discover what purpose their lives were meant for. It is no coincidence that one of his major novels was called Seize the Day. Bellow's evident sense of romance, a yearning to do important things, suffused his work and made his novels more than just the private musings of unhappy people; they express the longings of indiduals to be truly individual in a modern, mass society, and his stories explore the difficulty of achieving that.

Bellow's work showed intelligence, perspective, and humor. His novels are not to everyone's taste, but they definitely repay reading, and they provide many great insights into twentieth century American life. Books such as The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, and Mr. Sammler's Planet will last.

Shaft Of Pure Reason

Do we all appreciate sufficiently the gift of moments of solitude?

They provide pause for reflection. We scurry all day through a maze of routine. Note is supplanted by rote. Whence, then, reflection? Wonderment? Self-examination? Growth? Penitence?

When I was in the Israeli Army, my mates all scorned guard duty. I always embraced it. It was cold in those hills of Dotan (where I trained for 60 days), right near where Joseph had been sold. How can we avoid mistakes like that in our own time if we don't flex our brains beyond reflex?

Indeed I'll never forget (I promise I'm not making this up) as a teenager staying up late at night to watch Tomorrow with Tom Snyder on NBC. His guest was Xaviera Hollander and she was telling him how much she loved solitude. I kid you not.

And then, of course, there is this piquant item, the proximate cause of these pensees.

Time For Re-Petition

On the off-chance that I had not succeeded in nuking my career as a right-wing columnist with my assault on the Republican Congress for finessing the Terri Schiavo situation, I have come back with another round, this time at my home base of Jewish World Review.

This is the first time that I have ever written two columns on the same subject, making more or less the same point, but I found that the hoarse cry of anguish had not been fully slaked by the first. Plenty of grim humor here, too, but no mercy for the gentlemen and gentlewomen.

Two reps for the Reps; maybe someone is listening.

Hugh Hewitt Treads Similar Ground

Hugh Hewitt has a piece at Weekly Standard today dealing with the pope and the poll, but gives a much briefer analysis. He spends most of his white space wondering why the media didn't notice John Paul II had critics from the right, too. Thus, this pope was . . . TADA . . . center-right, something Hewitt loves. I'm suspicious of the whole "who's in the center" game because it usually ends up just being a way of making oneself look virtuous. Anyone can do it. A Klan member can claim to be "in the center" between those who would shoot black men on sight and those who would invite them into their homes!

Anyway, one thing caught my eye in Hewitt's short article. He writes:

Non-Catholics are best advised to keep silent on matters of doctrine within the Church. It is, after all, no more the business of a non-Catholic what the Church commands on the celibacy of its priests than it is a non-Muslim to opine on the proper keeping of Ramadan.

Uhhhh . . .no.

Any Christian has a right to discuss matters of doctrine within the Catholic Church because it claims to be THE CHURCH. Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox are all connected as Christians. We should discuss our differences and our doctrines. Otherwise, we have given up on Christ's exhortation that we be one like he and the father are one.

The Difference Between Religion and Politics

I've got a piece up today at American Spectator on expectations for the new pope to conform to "new realities" which John Paul II stubbornly resisted.

Here's a bit:

In the wake of John Paul II's death, the Associated Press did what the American media always do as great historical events shake the world. They took a poll. The verdict? Americans and American Catholics want change. It is hoped a more open-minded pope will take the reins. He was a great pope (you know, resisted the Nazis and the Communists and all that), but he failed to adapt to the times. What a pity. He could have capitulated to all of the demands of liberal Western democracy and really burnished his legacy. Oh well, missed opportunities ...

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Terri's Trial, Life

I was excited to find on another blog this elegant musing by Eytan Kobre, an Orthodox Jewish attorney from New York City, who always has something thoughtful and insightful to say:

Ask a proponent of plug-pulling why he believes what he does about Terri Schiavo and the response will likely be that she presently has zero dignity of life, that without consciousness, her life is devoid of value. But isn’t that a supreme irony? This woman’s fate has caused, by this point, countless millions of words to be spoken and written about some of life’s most important issues—the meaning and value of life and of death; the parameters of man’s obligations to fellow man; the definitions of dignity, suffering, soul, consciousness, marital and familial bonds; the roles of religion, law and medicine in society, and on and on.

Though we mortals are unable to judge such things, it may just be that this woman’s life has been the vehicle for enriching the world with more meaning, more wisdom, more moral seriousness in the past few weeks than many other individuals are responsible for in their combined entire lifetimes.

And while the vast majority of people in Ms. Schiavo’s predicament do not generate anywhere near the level of soul-searching and moral debate that she has engendered, does not every such situation hold within it a vast reservoir of potential meaning waiting to be actualized? The opportunity for family and friends to express altruistic love and provide care with no quid pro quo ; the lessons that sickness and looming death teach about making the most of our fleeting time on earth and the commitment to moral betterment this inspires; the opportunity for loved ones to repay moral debts and right past wrongs—- these and many more sources of meaning make every human life inherently significant, whatever its supposed “quality.”

The only difference between Ms. Schiavo and those individuals is that she is seemingly unaware of the role she is playing in focusing a large part of humanity on life’s ultimate concerns, while other, sentient beings are aware of their roles and actions. And therein lies the rub. Terri Schiavo’s life can only be termed valueless if individual value is dependant on one’s subjective awareness thereof, if “I” am the final arbiter of all things meaningful, not the world as a whole or, dare we say, a Supreme Being. But what a pitifully small-minded and egoistic way of determining value and meaning that is.

Danny Boy, The Pipes, The Pipes....

Kudos to the great Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, for an excellent article on Ariel Sharon's folly in today's Jewish World Review. Pipes is a great scholar of all things Middle Eastern and is one of the most important writers of our time on the subjects of terrorism, the Arab world and Israel. All his books and articles are valuable reading.

As our readers know, the critique offered by Pipes today echoes the one that I published in The American Spectator on March 9. Pipes and I share in common with most of our readers not only a great love for Israel and concern for its security but also an abiding respect for the late Menachem Begin. Begin founded the wing of Israeli governance (after its seeds had been sown in pre-statehood days by Vladimir Jabotinsky) that Sharon now heads. But Menachem Begin once said: "I cannot count the wounds in my back placed there by Sharon." The back-stabbing continues, albeit posthumously for Begin.

Neither Pipes nor I are Kahanists or some other form of radical. We would agree to return territory for peace, but only AT THE END of a multi-year process that includes significant and consistent moves by the Palestinians, starting from the abandonment of terrorism and continuing through the purging of vitriolic anti-Semitism from textbooks. (When they keep hanging maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, we skeptical types are hard-pressed to buy into the contention that "uber alles" has given way to uberrima fides.)

Taking Names

In a brilliant career move for a right-wing columnist, I have set out to lambaste the Republican Congress for their pathetic futility in the Terri Schiavo debacle. Catch it in today's Spectator, who gutsily gave me the platform to lay out this harsh indictment.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The MoveOn.Org Laxative

The team at Sojourners is just about the only place in the evangelical world where the Democrats have a foothold. However, these Christian lefties have a sense of humor. Check out this fake news item from their April Fool's email:

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John Paul II—Some Thoughts of a Non-Catholic

Pope John Paul II did wonders in confronting the many divides within the Catholic Church and between that church body and the rest of Christendom. There remains much, much work to be done, of course, but I believe that the beginning he has made (which of course builds on earlier reforms which, ironically, many American Catholics strongly opposed and still do) will leave a lasting legacy if the church continues to build on his accomplishments.

In my view, the greatest source of this pope's success—beyond his hard work, passion, and wisdom—was his willingness to question all things while remaining true to the essentials of his faith and his church. That is a perspective the Catholic Church and its next leader must retain if progress is to continue.

The church must continue to ask serious questions about its internal organization and its engagement with the world. The answers will greatly displease many people. Nonetheless, fulfilling its mission, the Great Commission, must be the central consideration in all church matters. Where traditions or current doctrines and practices stand in the way, they must be abolished. Where these things serve the misson of the church, they should be strengthened.

Ultimately, the aim of the Catholic Church is to be catholic, to be universal among all Christians, which it is at present very far from becoming. However, as Hunter Baker has pointed out on this site and in writings published elsewhere, the major orthodox Christian groups are closer to one another than at any time in centuries. (I should also add that the Christian church may now be in closer harmony with believing Jews than it has ever been.) Appropriate internal reforms combined with principled ecumenicism should be the goal of all Christian churches, and it is right that the world's largest Christian church body should lead the way.

In this endeavor, all Christians should wish for God's great blessings on the Catholic Church.

Excellent Links on John Paul II

Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard

William Kristol (Ditto)

Thomas Hibbs at NRO

George Weigel at Opinion Journal

The Great Christian Witness of the Last Quarter Century

My mother grew up Catholic in a small town in Alabama. When she was a teenager in public school for the first time in high school, one of the students asked her if it was really true that she would have to sleep with a priest on her wedding night.

I grew up in the same town and recall when John Paul II replaced his short-lived predecessor. From that time forward, I paid attention to his career. He was dedicated to freedom, a man who had lived through the oppression of the Nazis and the Soviets. Now, he was the most powerful religious figure on earth. He did not shrink from the challenge. His Poland would eventually prove pivotal in loosening the Soviet's iron grip on Eastern Europe.

In addition to freedom, Pope John Paul labored against the easy and deadly conveniences of the age. His greatness brought evangelicals and Catholics into a single camp in opposition to the culture of death and materialism. The alliance was made easier by his insistence that Protestants were separated brethren and his desire that the church should again be one. We may yet see his wish fulfilled within decades rather than centuries. The two sides are closer now than at any time since the Counter-Reformation.

Though I am an evangelical Christian, I do not hesitate to recognize this Pope as God's minister to the world and as the greatest public Christian of the age (with apologies to Billy Graham).

Friday, April 01, 2005

They Call Me MR. Ailes

Great little feature on Fox News pioneer Roger Ailes who did something rather than complain about conservatives being treated poorly by the media. Check it out at CBS MarketWatch.

As usual, I offer a smidgen:

Maybe Ailes' greatest asset is his self-confidence. Like most visionaries, he doesn't seem to give a hoot what skeptics think. That's partly because he doesn't have much patience for critics, especially within his ranks. When a group of people are all working on the same page, it's easy to build loyalty. Once people function as a team, they feel unbeatable and, in turn, it's very hard to beat them.

From what I could see, there isn't a self-deprecating bone in the man's body. If Ailes sounded utterly unapologetic about Fox's unique brand of success -- pandering to the right wing -- it was because, quite clearly, he feels that he has nothing to apologize for.

That Ailes is cleaning CNN's clock -- remember, it was known as the Clinton News Network -- is being viewed as a blow to liberals and left-wing causes everywhere. And make no mistake about it. Nobody is enjoying their discomfort more than Ailes himself.

Puttin' My Cash Out On Da Street

One last item for today:

I had promised to announce here when I returned to Wall Street. As we have discussed here in the past, I move my retirement fund in and out of Diamonds (symbol: DIA) which track the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and I have been sitting on the sidelines with a cash position since December when I sold out at $107.97 a share at the 10,800 level of the index. I have averaged over 18 percent a year return over the last two years (the Diamonds also pay a dividend).

This morning I bought back in at $104.18. My broker ecstatically ran to call his entire client list, who follow me like some kind of guru.

Pope John Paul II, RIP

Early reports indicate that the Pope has departed to join Ronald Reagan in that special place in Heaven for those who saved the modern world from itself - at least so far. He was a (Papal) bull - and now even China shops.

With Apologies To Bobby Thomson...

... for liberals, Terri Schiavo is now the "cull herd round the world"...

Let Me Count The Waste

What is lost in our world by striking a Terri Schiavo from the rolls of the living?

The loss is incalculable.

1) A person who is the object of love and compassion increases the presence of those elements in the world.

2) That person also offers an opportunity for many individuals, whether family members or caregivers, to express real acts of giving and kindness.

3) A person who suffers, in addition to purifying their own soul, brings forgiveness to humanity (according to both Judaism and Christianity). [Although in neither religion is this a reason to force a person to extend life; it is a spiritual consideration that is not factored into the practical medical decision.]

4) In Jewish theology, the world is measured every day and God's treatment of it is based on a mathematical/metaphysical calculus that is determined by the NUMBER of good people and the NUMBER of bad people at any given time. One good person can bring much blessing to the world merely by BEING.

A Moment for Pat Buchanan

Drudge linked to video of Pat Buchanan getting doused with salad dressing at Western Michigan.

It reminded me of a more dignified occasion when I went to see Pat promote his autobiography in 1987 (or was it '88) in Pensacola, Florida. Pat had returned to Crossfire after a gig as Reagan's Director of Communications. If you haven't read the autobio, Right from the Beginning, I urge you to obtain a copy. The Pat Buchanan you'll meet there is far from the semi-caricature of Pat the politician. Besides being the very interesting story of a young pugilist good with his hands and his pen, the book is a great tale of growing up Catholic in the 50's.

Positions on Schiavo—Some Whys and Wherefores

Lawrence Auster argues in an interesting article on Frontpagemag.com that the reason the Left decided to back Michael Schiavo in his quest to end his wife's life was a simple hatred of and fear of American Christian conservatives. It is an interesting argument, which I don't quite buy, but I must admit that his refutation of the reasons given for why the Left supported Michael Schiavo is persuasive.

Larry does ask the right question:

"If individual rights and personal choice are the liberals' bottom line, why must the personal preference of Michael, who has (understandably) moved on with his life, be seen as inviolable, but the personal preference of Terri's parents, who have not moved on with their lives but want to care for their daughter, must be equated with theocratic tyranny and resisted at all costs?"

It is not my intention here to restart the fight over the merits of that argument, only to point out that it is an important question for the Right to ask, if only to test its own position by considering its own positions on individual rights and personal choice.

Of course, the Left will argue (and has done so) that their response to the situation has been based purely on reason. I agree that it has been a reasoned position. The Right, however, would say the same about its arguments, again correctly in my view. As I have pointed out earlier on this site, the two sides had and still have a serious dispute over the facts of the case. They disagree on the basic question of whether Terri Schiavo had sufficient brain function that her condition did not meet the criteria that Michael Schiavo claims she set for preferring death over continued existence.

I believe this disagreement came about on the basis of the two sides' differing perceptions of the intellectual issues it brings up. It seems evident that each side leaped intuitively to a conclusion about what would be best in the situation, then chose arguments to support that premise. There is nothing wrong with that. However, pretending that one's own side is reasonable and the other is driven by dark superstitions, as many on the Left have done in the present case, does not evidence a use of pure reason. Likewise, claiming that one's opponents adore death, as many on the Right have done, is unlikely to win adherents for the pristine logic of one's position.

This issue won't go away, I surmise, because the hatred and suspicion of both sides remains. Indeed, the arguments over this issue have strengthened those hatreds. In that regard, Lawrence Auster is quite correct.

Pat Sajak, the Conservative

I knew Pat had spoken at Hillsdale (which establishes your movement cred like nothing else), but I had no idea he was willing to out himself on the internet. Mr. Sajak is a quasi-blogger. I suppose he can afford to be known since he's the man at Wheel of Fortune and will likely never take another show since Wheel has been tops in syndication for about 21 years.

Here's a taste of Pat's blogging:

Ask Mr. Politics II

Mr. Politics is back to answer your questions. And, as usual, he’s feeling a bit testy.

Now that a brutal dictatorship has been overthrown in Iraq, and free elections have been held there and in Afghanistan, and Libya has renounced its nuclear program, and Israel and the Palestinians have declared a cease-fire, and leaders of Saudi Arabia and others have been put on notice about democratizing their nations, what more has to happen in order for President Bush to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

J.V. Philadelphia, PA


(HT to Southern Appeal)


My new fessay, #4, is up at the blog reserved for such forays into uncharted literary territory: Fessay So Myself.

The "fessay" is my recent literary invention, in which the column responding to a story is rendered in the form of fiction, i.e. a "fictional essay".

#4 responds to the news of Terri Schiavo being starved to death by judicial fiat, which event was lustily cheered by great big swaths of our society, most particularly the "Beautiful People".

A tangential bit of good news: The first fessay was posted on March 21, and by March 23 was featured by the Patentist web site (a resource for inventors and patent attorneys) as an important new invention.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Courting Disaster

Dr. Zycher made reference below to Jewish tradition and law, which militates against doing any act to speed the death of a person. Although a death-preventing device may be removed in certain extreme cases involving BOTH extreme pain and a medical prognosis that recovery is impossible, even this may only be done when a person is in the PROCESS of dying, which Terri Schiavo was not. Thank you to Dr. Zycher for that valuable contribution, one which has not been heard publicly from too many Jews, prompting yesterday's very interesting article by David Klinghoffer at National Review Online.

And once we are in that territory, may I point out two very valuable insights from Jewish law that could well have been applied in this case by Judge Greer but were sadly not considered.

1) A karov, i.e. a blood relative, even as far distant as a second cousin, may never testify in a case that affects their relative, whether or not that testimony seems to be beneficial to the relative.

2) A nogayah, i.e. a person with a financial interest in the outcome, may never testify in a way that is beneficial to his or her own interest.

These are two rules of Jewish courtroom procedure. Between them, they would have eliminated all of the testimony presented to the Court concerning Terri's statements of intent.

A Few Thoughts On Terri Schiavo

If only we had credible evidence on this young lady's wishes, both past and present if possible. At the same time, we must confront the situation as it confronts us; in my humble view, the origin of this problem lies with Judge Greer, who---based upon my understanding of the facts---never should have issued a factual finding to the effect that Mrs. Schiavo did not want to be fed through a tube over the long term were she to find herself in a persistent vegetative state. Even the latter premise is not clear, in that---again, as I understand things---she has not had an MRI or PET scan in many years, if ever. Perhaps that ruling was due to bad lawyering on behalf of the woman's parents at the outset; and perhaps Judge Greer should have noted the potential conflict of interest on the part of the husband, particularly after the conclusion of the malpractice lawsuit, and therefore should have appointed another independent guardian ad litem. In any event, the factual finding is what it is, and we have a system in which it is appropriately difficult for appellate jurists to revisit factual issues in the absence of serious procedural error on the part of the finder of fact. Now, given this basic problem with Judge Greer's initial finding, I have heard no persuasive argument to the effect that the Florida courts have ruled inappropriately.

The turn toward the federal courts must hinge upon an argument to the effect that a federal law or right has been violated. And here I have a real problem with those invoking the Americans With Disabilities Act, and other such monstrosities. Do we want to have the courts use unconstitutional laws so as to achieve outcomes that we prefer? I think not. As I understand it, the emergency legislation passed by Congress in a midnight session directed a federal court to undertake a de novo review of the case not in its entirety, but in the context of Mrs. Schiavo's federal rights. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) It seems to me that the federal judge acted far too hastily---the feeding tube should have been reinserted while a serious review proceeded---and that is another source of anguish: Too many of the judges are morons and worse.

Jewish tradition is clear on the distinction between preserving life and delaying death. At a moral level, Mrs. Schiavo is not dying, she is not on life support, she has not received the therapy that she needs and that was promised by her husband during the course of the malpractice lawsuit. Until further medical tests are done, we do not know the precise nature of her condition---even with such tests, there still might prevail continuing disagreement among the physicians---and we certainly do not know her wishes. What we do know is that our civilization depends upon not only the pursuit of outcomes preserving our relationship with the Almighty, but also those preserving our relationship with ourselves. For the same reason that the possibility that some innocents might be executed in a system of capital punishment does not present a powerful argument against it, we simply cannot allow the anguish of such difficult cases to engender rationales for eroding our legal system, regardless of the degree to which the leftists, the death-with-dignity crowd, and the abortion lobby do so as a matter of course. The hypocrisy of the Left in the Schiavo matter is breathtaking; remember Elian Gonzalez? We cannot descend into that pit with them.

I wish we knew Mrs. Schiavo's wishes. I wish that we knew her condition. I wish that we could have greater confidence in her husband's assertions. I wish that Judge Greer had given more thought to his factual findings. I pray that others not find themselves in her situation. But I also wish that our legal system were not so thoroughly corrupted and policitized.

Off to a conference the rest of the week.

Harry Truman Lives!

At the outset of Operation Barbarossa---the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union---Harry Truman observed that if the Germans were winning we should help the Russians, and if the Russians were winning we should help the Germans. Well, we now have animal-loving human-hating totalitarians at PETA attacking the ineffable Jennifer Lopez for her fur collection. Please help me: For whom should I cheer?

Trying to Find the Bottom Line on Terri

A friend (left-wing type) at the university read my American Spectator piece and said it was the most polemical/propagandistic thing he's ever seen me write. I disagree, of course. I think what I've done is render a highly accurate prediction of the direction of euthanasia as a response to the hard facts of Terri Schiavo's case.

Those who read this weblog know that we are divided on the question of what should be happening in Terri's case. Ben Zycher remains undeclared, but the rest of us have offered several opinions and bits of analysis.

Leaving aside the slippery slope, the bottom line is that I am not convinced there is no "Terri" inside the body now being dehydrated/starved. I am not in favor of preserving life no matter what. Part of the reason I am so uncertain is because of Terri's parents and other relatives. They strongly believe she is responsive, no matter how minimally. If that is the case, I don't know how we dare choose death for her.

What about her husband's statement that she didn't want to live this way? It is highly unlikely such a discussion reached an adequate level of detail to reach dehydration/starvation, particularly among ordinary people. I imagine they watched some 20/20 feature story or a movie of the week about a person on life support and Terri said (if she indeed said anything), "I wouldn't want to go on that way." We could safely say that means no ventilator, but no food/water is a bit of a stretch from an off-handed statement by a 20-something in casual conversation.

Alan takes issue with my mention of the Netherlands as a land that has lost its way thanks to its embrace of euthanasia. I think its safe to say they have. Abraham Kuyper's once proud land has given up on a high view of the person's dignity on just about every front, whether that be drugs, sex, reproduction, pre-born life, superannuated life, etc.. As far as Virginia goes, www.euthanasia.com says they have no law permitting assisted suicide. Oregon does, but I'm not sure that's a sign that their moral sensibilities are improving. For more about Switzerland and the Netherlands, follow this link to a worthwhile NRO article by Wesley J. Smith.

The Schiavo Debate

The Terri Schiavo case is nearing its end, it appears, although a federal court has agreed to hear another appeal. It seems unlikely that she will survive the week.

Tempers have run high as the nation has discussed the issue, and the authors of this blog have disagreed (politely, as always) about the meaning of the case. A measure of this passion is the fact that many individuals have repeatedly and disgracefully mischaracterized the positions and statements of those on the other side.

As in the overall national debate, however, it appears to me that the disagreement in the Reform Club has arisen largely over the facts in the case rather than the principles of the situation. One side truly believes that Terri would not have wanted to live this way, that she expressed this clearly to her husband and two other people, and that her husband is simply insisting that her wishes be granted. The other side does not believe that Terri expressed a clear directive that covers the present case. The arguments stem from disagreement over those simple facts.

As a result, I have argued that we need this debate because clarity in the law is essential, and clarity in one’s personal directives likewise necessary.

However, it also appears to me that our varying willingness to believe Michael Schiavo’s claims is perhaps traceable to differences over certain principles we apply to life in general. The issue has brought out furious debates over what life is for, and how we value human lives. Put simply, some are absolutists in the matter, and some are not. Most are unsure, and rely on intuitive responses.

Personally, I am among the latter, the uncertain ones. That is why I have argued for clarity in the law and in individuals’ personal directives regarding these matters.

In the present case, I do not see such clarity. I think both sides have a reasonable case to make. Upon my judgment of the facts, I would greatly prefer to see Terri’s care handed over to her parents, for I strongly doubt that the present case covers what she may have meant when speaking to her husband about some TV movies many years ago.

Yes, the Florida and federal courts have spoken on the matter, but this is the outcome I personally would have wished to see.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Is No Fate Worse Than Death?

The only reason I mentioned my mother in “Death is Rarely Easy” was to demonstrate that death by dehydration is not unique to Terri Schiavo but is, in fact, a common end to many wasting diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS and AIDS, etc. The end result from removing a feeding tube, after all, is the same as from refusing to insert such a tube in the first place.

Geriatric specialists June Lunney and Joanne Lynn, writing in The Washington Post, March 27, noted that Terri Schiavo’s plight is “not unique” but “a common situation.” We don’t know precisely how common, because the cause of death is recorded according to the underlying disease rather than by the refusal to use life support technologies.

I have had living wills in five states which always left the decisions to my spouse rather than my parents (I would have never upset my parents by confiding my views about their own end of life, much less mine).

My latest Advanced Medical Directive empowers my wife to refuse on my behalf “the use of mechanical or other procedures that affect any bodily function, including, but not limited to, artificial respiration, artificially administered nutrition and hydration, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This authorization specifically includes the power to consent to the administration of dosages of pain relieving medication in excess of standard dosages . . . even if such medication . . . inadvertently hastens my death.” The last provision is perfectly legal in Virginia.

Hunter Baker singled out euthanasia law in the Netherlands as symptomatic of collective sin, but he did observe such a slippery slope among the citizens of Virginia, Oregon or Switzerland (where assisted death has been legal since 1937).

I am not arguing that the laws of 44 states against lethal injection are right or wrong. I leave that to the states. I am merely making the factual point that such laws leave many dying persons with no choice but to die slowly though not necessarily painfully (anesthetics are generally effective against pain, as shown during surgery).

My previous entry was about living wills, not euthanasia. I speculated that the reason so many people have been motivated by the Schiavo case to fill out living wills is not because they wish to insist on being kept alive by any means possible under any conceivable circumstance. Nobody has yet questioned that premise, so what does it imply about “what the patient would have wanted for herself” in Terry Schiavo’s case? If Mrs. Schiavo had filled out a living will, what are the odds that her medical directives would have been the exact opposite of most other living wills?

Many people gratuitously accuse her husband (and the Florida courts) of lying about what Terri Schiavo would have wanted, even though many of these same people are openly horrified by the prospect of spending countless decades bedridden, immobile and unable to communicate. In the March 23 The Washington Times Charles Krauthammer wrote that “If I were in Terry Schiavo’s condition I would not want a feeding tube.” On March 26, Tom Sowell wrote in the same paper that he would not “want to be kept alive in Terri’s condition.” He added that he would also not “want to be killed so slowly and painfully.” Yet in all but six U.S. states, however, only the first choice could be part of his living will. In most states anyone who does not want a permanent feeding tube, such as Mr. Sowell and Mr. Krauthammer, has no choice left but to die slowly from dehydration. Those who support laws against physician-assisted death cannot have it both ways – first arguing for criminalizing a “humane way to end life” yet subsequently feigning indignation whenever life does not end humanely.

Also in The Washington Times March 27, William Goldcamp speaks of Mrs. Schiavo’s “ignominious death, one worse than would be permitted a death-row prisoner or a dog.” Yet such ignominy is entirely because most state laws prohibit physicians from making death entirely painless, except for death-row prisoners or dogs. That is, most states hold physicians criminally and civilly liable for the administration of dosages of pain relieving medication in excess of standard dosages even if such medication inadvertently hastens death.

Feeding tubes are not inserted by divine intervention. “Letting nature take its course” does not mean letting physicians do whatever they want. Anyone’s “appointed time” depends on human decisions to resuscitate, to use mechanical methods of assisting breathing or circulation, and/or to rely on a feeding tube.

A “slippery slope” toward widespread euthanasia could be an unintended consequence of one faction’s gross exaggeration of the notion that the absence of a feeding tube toward the end of life is either unusual or terribly cruel. Even for people who are not brain-damaged (Alzheimer’s being a much milder form of brain damage than Mrs. Schiavo's), the inability to eat or drink is not typically agonizing (the body and consciousness just shut down) and medication would be available if it were. If many people actually come to believe the recent hyperbole about the alleged horrors of ending life without a feeding tube, then they are far more likely to demand their living wills permit potentially fatal dosages of pain relieving medication. If their state does not allow that, they may well be prompted to agitate for more permissive laws. Indeed, they may reasonably conclude from Congressional meddling in the Schiavo case that voters have now been encouraged to do such agitating at the federal level.

Although I get there by a very different route, I end up agreeing completely with Sam Karnick’s conclusion: “A broad federal law—or worse yet, an overarching Supreme Court decision based on emanations from the penumbra of the Constitution—would surely be a classic illustration of the adage that hard cases make bad law.”

Zycher and Mighty Powerline

The Powerline Blog, breaker of Dan Rather and one of the most read weblogs around, extensively cites Reform Clubber Ben Zycher in an analytical piece about state laws raising the minimum wage.

Jesse Jackson Can't Take It

I was listening to the radio on the way to the university when I heard Jesse Jackson talking to the press outside of Terri Schiavo's hospice facility.

He spoke of having acted in a ministerial capacity many times near the end of people's lives. He talked about Demerol and removing life support and fairly rapid expirations. Then, the shocker:

"Terri Schiavo has been without food and water for twelve days. They are starving her to death."

The Jesse Jackson who backed off his pro-life views to seek the Democratic Party's nomination so many years ago has decided he is willing to draw a line.

Krugman Lobs the Extremist Bomb AGAIN . . .

Paul Krugman was once known as an economist of some substance. After bashing Bush’s economic policies with no regard to anything approaching clarity or truthfulness, the economist descended to simple polemicism. After taking on Christian conservatives today, Mr. Krugman shows he isn’t even very good at polemics. We’ll buy him a ticket to the Mencken/Twain school of bashing believers if he needs a second career.

I don’t normally pay much attention to “the Krug,” but my friend and colleague Al Beck sent me an email on the latest column in the NYT and gave me permission to post his thoughts here. Mr. Beck is charitable and holds out the hand of friendship even while he expresses his supreme dissatisfaction with the former economist:

If the intent of this piece ("What's Going On?") was to sharpen the divide between religious conservatives (okay, let's be honest--Christian conservatives) and more moderate secularists, then Mr. Krugman has succeeded. By painting all religious conservatives with a broad brush, lumping Israeli terrorists, Muslim fanatics, praying evangelicals, and rosary-twirling grandmothers into the same camp, Krugman goes so far that he is, it seems, guilty of what he so often condemns. He has effectively objectified "the other," in this case conservative Christians, just as Hitler objectified the Jews as "the other" and thus was able to ignore their plight and seek their destruction. Randall Terry may be a pompous windbag, but Krugman's guilt-by-association turns him into something much more frightening, and, it seems, much less real.

Now, the above comparison may not seem fair--Krugman and Hitler as fellow travelers along the road to some sort of modern holocaust. I'm sure that Krugman would be horrified at such a mischaracterization of his beliefs and attitudes, but that's the point. Terry Schiavo's parents, those Christian believers praying in front of Schiavo's nursing home, and the pharmacist or doctor who really believes that she cannot assist in the taking of a human life have about as much in common with Dutch Muslim fanatics and Israeli assassins as Krugman has with Hitler--i.e., nothing at all except a shared humanity that is often prone to evil (as are we all), yet ever hopeful for better things. But, as the head of the Christian Coalition once declared (and I'm speaking of Jesus and not Pat Robertson, of course)--"You hypocrite, first cast out the beam from your own eye; and then shall you see clearly so as to to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye." Let us not be too quick to do to others what we accuse them of doing to us. In seeking a humane and just society, Krugman would do much better to get to know the conservative believers who walk among us, who live next door to us, and share our fundamental values of peace, justice, and the dignity of human life.

Business Ethics and Cultural Evolution

A very interesting article in today's New York Times explores the new fervor among U.S. corporations for ethics standards. Companies are holding their employees to much higher standards of personal and business behavior, the article says, now that so many firms have been hit hard by scandalous personal conduct and incidents of corporate malfeasance.

Rather predictably, the Times article claims that firms are being driven solely by self-interest, "now that boards and chief executives have seen how public scandals can torpedo stock prices, alienate customers and end careers." Several business analysts are quoted as objecting to what they call a New Puritanism among corporations, which they say is driven by panic and fear.

What is particularly interesting is that neither the author nor anyone quoted in the article suggested that the more rigorous standards for business ethics could have any ties whatever to broader social and cultural trends in the country.

However, it seems absurdly unlikely that there is no connection between the two. I have written in the past about the changes in moral and social standards that occurred in the United States in the half-century after World War II, and I believe that business ethics began to become more relaxed just as other standards did during that period. But whereas the general culture reached a tipping point, where the changes became undeniable, in the 1960s, in the business realm the difference did not become quite so noticeable until the 1980s—as the generation raised during the postwar era began to come to power in the business world.

Just as new, more latitudinarian cultural assumptions filtered into the business world during the half-century after WWII, it appears that the new, more restrictive social and moral standards of our time are starting to have their effect on U.S. businesses now. If the Times article is correct, and the "new puritanism" is merely a response to recent scandals, then we can expect a return to more lax standards of behavior as soon as the heat is off. If I am right and the changes in business ethics are part of a long-term cultural trend, we should expect to see the standards continue to tighten.

Youth Think So?

Visitors to this venue will recall that I periodically return to a personal bugaboo: the importance of not allowing your child to accelerate too rapidly through the school system, to the point where social alienation becomes fairly inevitable.

Today I explore this theme for the readers of The American Spectator.

Monday, March 28, 2005

End-of-Life Disputes: Who Should Decide?

The repercussions from the Terri Schiavo case have just begun. That is so, of course, because the main issue remains undecided: what the state should do when a person’s guardians and loved ones are in dispute over what should be done in dire medical situations if the individual has left no clear, written instructions.

The question, of course, will be whether the issues are best handled at the state or federal level. I am inclined to favor state autonomy in the matter, even though the Florida courts and legislature seem to have dropped the ball on this one, the latter in creating laws too ambiguous to handle the sorts of difficult cases they were evidently meant to deal with, and the former in refusing to consider many issues brought up in the appeal.

The worst job, however, clearly was done by the lawyers engaged by Terri Schiavo’s parents, in failing to bring up important matters during the original court proceedings, which allowed the appeals court to ignore the arguments later. (It is important to note, however, that the Florida courts did not have to ignore these arguments but chose to do so, albeit with perfectly good legal justification).

The role of government in these matters ought to be quite clear: to adjudicate conflicts between competing interests. In all such cases, clarity in the laws is essential.

My preference is that such decisions be made as close to the source as possible. (I should note here that I was not one of the writers who called for congressional action in the Schiavo case.) First, there is the choice to be made by the individual. In this case, that means a well-written living will or similar document. Failing that, the decision should be made by the person’s guardian, if any, and immediate family. The problem in the Schiavo case, of course, was that there was no agreement among the family on what Terri’s wishes would have been, nor on what was best for her.

If no consensus can be reached among the family, then of course the government must intervene. The medical community, in my view, should not be the actual decision maker, and should follow two rules: first, do no harm (which precludes any active participation in euthanasia in any form); and second, execute the wishes of the individual or family. If the family’s wishes conflict with the first rule, the person should be removed from medical care and the agreed-upon treatment should be administered.

To do otherwise would risk corrupting the medical profession severely.

Of course, given the publicity surrounding the Schiavo case, the press is on for federal legislation.

An article in today’s New York Times noted, “some Democrats, prodded by advocates for the disabled, say Congress should consider whether [a law allowing the federal courts to review disputed cases like that of Terri Schiavo] is needed."

On the ABC-TV program This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Massachusetts representative Barney Frank (D) said, "I think we should look into this and very possibly legislate it," although he had opposed the more narrowly targeted law Congress passed regarding the Schiavo case. Frank said, "I think Congress needs to do more. Because I've spoken with a lot of disability groups who are concerned that, even where a choice is made to terminate life, it might be coerced by circumstances."

The Times article noted that the two groups pressing for legislative action on the matter— Christian conservatives and advocates for the disabled—have not gotten along very well in the past, and are taking conflicting approaches: “it is unclear whether Christian conservatives and disability rights advocates can agree on what action Congress should take. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative group, said on Sunday that his organization was working with states to urge them to pass measures that would prevent the withdrawal of nutrition from patients like Ms. Schiavo.

“Mr. Perkins said state action was ‘the preferred route,’ adding, ‘In certain circumstances there may need to be some federal action, but I would not advocate a broad brush stroke of the federal government to try to prevent this from happening again.’

The approach that Perkins suggests is the right one, in my view. A broad federal law—or worse yet, an overarching Supreme Court decision based on emanations from the penumbra of the Constitution—would surely be a classic illustration of the adage that hard cases make bad law. And this was a very hard case indeed.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Cleaning Up After the Show . . .

Alan brought up the critique that conservative-libertarians usually prefer that decision-making be as localized as possible in order to restrain the growth of centralized power. It's a good critique. We remain mindful of it. However, conservatives (and libertarians, I think) are also quite attached to slippery-slope arguments. I'll go out on a limb and try to portray the angle of this one for our readers and writers.

1. America watches Terri Schiavo die over a prolonged period from dehydration/starvation.

2. More attention is paid by everyone to things like living wills and other legal instruments. More commonly, husbands and wives will be explicit with each other about detailed situations.

3. Many will stop and ask, why did Terri have to die of dehydration? Why couldn't she have been well-cared for to the end and finally delivered via an overdose of morphine or some other quick, painless finisher?

4. The euthanasia movement will gain significant momentum.

5. Assisted suicide will either be legalized in a significant portion of the states or the Supreme Court will federalize the issue as they have abortion.

6. America attains the moral status of say, the Netherlands.

Whether this is a pretty picture or not depends on your own moral compass. I'm concerned about where the slope will lead us. I can easily envision euthanasia being actively urged for imperfect infants of all kinds. The Down Syndrome children who aren't already killed in utero via programs to "reduce birth defects" will now be wiped out en masse in their first 10 days of life as parents take the easy way out. We'll start hearing about post-euthanasia parents just like we hear about post-abortive women. Our moral fiber will continue to weaken as we dispose of our challenges instead of growing through them.

Chaos Of The Soul

If folks will forgive me, I will ramble a bit on the Terri Schiavo case.

First of all, kudos to Ralph Nader for being on the right side of this one. His most cogent point is this: there is no law in the world that can allow a court to order that a person not be fed by hand. Even if a feeding tube is deemed to be "life support" (and, may I remind everyone that in the landmark case of Karen Ann Quinlan, after the family won the right to remove her from the respirator, she lived nine more years - i.e. it never occurred to anyone to remove her feeding tube), giving food and water by hand certainly is not. There is no power in the Constitution or elsewhere to allow a person to be denied food and water by hand.

Sadly, I don't think that it ever occurred to the attorneys to make a separate filing to a federal judge to ask for permission to feed by hand since the state judge's injunction is illegal on its face. If indeed she cannot take nourishment in this way, then she will die, but if she can, she will be saved.

Does any State have the right to execute a serial killer with a hundred dismembered victims by denying him food and water? Of course not. It would be cruel and inhuman punishment. (This point was made by attorney Jack Thompson in his memo to Governor Bush).

I have no strength to continue. This is a horror to me, and I feel betrayed by every concept and institution that I took to be a bulwark and a buttress.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Affidavit on Terri's Condition and Capabilities

Here is evidence the judge apparently found unconvincing as he ruled:

Affidavit from Heidi Law, nurse who take care of Terri

Terri's Plight and the End of Life

I can identify with Alan's concerns. I've sat vigil in a hospital room with a loved one and counted the long spaces between extraordinarily labored breaths. I've whispered in my grandfather's ear and told him to "Go to Jesus. You don't have to wait for us. We're okay. We love you." I saw an old man die and felt great relief he didn't choose to prolong his suffering by being hooked up to a ventilator.

I feel differently about Terri Schiavo, though. My grandfather was actively dying. Terri Schiavo was not. She continued to live, requiring food and water, but still breathing on her own. There is a great difference between dying naturally and having life's sustenance withheld in order to bring death. What has been done to Terri Schiavo is indistinguishable in my mind from what would happen if a person taking care of a quadraplegic relative simply refused to provide food and water.

I am highly disturbed by the fact that we don't see unanimity of medical opinion about Terri's situation. Some say she's in a vegetative state, others say not, still others don't know. I fear the judicial determinations have depended more on an assessment of whether her life is worth living than on slam-dunk medical evidence.

Finally, it should mean something that Terri's family so keenly desires her continued presence. If she were truly vegetative, then it would be hard to believe they would fight as they have. They feel she is alive and interactive, no matter how minimally. This woman seems to me to be profoundly disabled more than brain-dead or vegetative.

I tried to go to sleep two nights ago after helping my week-old daughter get back to sleep. For some reason, standing by the bed in the moonlight I thought about Terri Schiavo and felt as if God would have me pray. The whole world is watching and I think He is, too.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Difficult Decisions

I sympathize with anyone in the position Alan Reynolds was in when faced with the loss of his mother and his great concern for her full and true welfare. However, I agree with John Hutchins's thoughtful comments to Alan's post.

Alan, I think the key element here is that the Terri Schiavo case does not fit the situation you describe, as I have noted in earlier postings on the matter. To wit and in particular, Terri Schiavo is not brain dead. She is not in an advanced, incurable stage of Alzheimer's disease, nor is she suffering great pain, as far as anyone can discern, nor does she suffer from any of the other conditions typically given as reasons for mercy killing. She is by no means an obvious candidate for a killing by denial of food and water—except for the unsupported statements of her husband, a man who has become entirely estranged from her and her family. He won't even allow them to visit her, lest they place an ice chip on her dehydrated lips.

Surely, Alan, your emotional ties to your mother were far stronger than the obvious emotional distance Michael Schiavo displays toward Terri!

As I mentioned earlier, the New York Times agrees that Terri Schiavo is not a conventional candidate for mercy killing, even if one accepts the premise that euthanasia can be acceptable. In Tuesday's story by Abby Goodnough, the reporter noted, "She [Terri Schiavo] can breathe on her own and has periods of wakefulness, but Judge George Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who presided over the case, accepted the testimony of doctors who said she was in a 'persistent vegetative state' and incapable of thought or emotion."

The real issue here is not whether Terri Schiavo should die but who should decide the matter. The question of who is qualified to choose, who truly has Terri's best interests at heart, is not only a legal question but also, and much more powerfully, a moral one. That, I think, is why passions have run so high over this matter.

In my view, although perhaps not others', it could not be more obvious that Terri's parents want what is best for her, in line with their religious beliefs, of course, but without any true conflicts of interest. Michael Schiavo, on the other hand, does have an explicit interest in seeing Terri die, if only to get on with his own life unencumbered by a very disabled wife.

This moral issue is extremely important to the body politic. Recent history, especially trends in Europe, makes it quite clear that there will be many more such attempts to stretch the definition of what it is acceptable for doctors and legal guardians to do in ending the lives of patients under their care. And not all of these will be cases in which the right choice is clear, as in the nevertheless agonizing case of Alan's decision about his mother. In addition, as the huge Baby Boom generation reaches advanced age, these decisions will become even more common and increasingly vexing—and a great number of Boomers will be in Terri’s position instead of Michael’s.

Hence, the discussion of Terri's sad plight is important and necessary. Only when the public presses for and receives clear legislation on these matters will the law have a chance of fully reflecting the needs of both parties in such cases, with a true respect for the rights of the helpless to live even when they pose a burden others do not wish to accept.

The Florida courts have decided that the law is clear on this matter as it applies to the case currently in question. Be that as it may, the court of public opinion is making it increasingly evident that not all of the public sees the answer in this case as quite so obvious. This a matter that should be discussed, and one on which passions should indeed be high. If life and death are not important, nothing is.

This brings us to Alan's argument about the Christian valuation of life evidenced by those who have expressed a desire that Terri not be dehydrated and starved to death: "Many who profess belief in a glorious afterlife have nonetheless become curiously agitated on behalf of clinging to the faintest semblance of life by unnatural means. This makes no theological sense unless Mrs. Schiavo is assumed to be damned, which seems a very unChristian presumption."

This is a serious question and merits a serious answer. I shall presume that a clear reference from Scripture will suffice to explain the ambivalence Alan has correctly identified. Here it is, from Paul's letter to the church in Phillipi (Plilippians 1:21-24):

"21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."

As Paul makes clear, to long to be with Christ, or to wish to have another person be with Christ, does not suggest that we yearn for a quick death. Christians believe that God Himself is in and with every believer, through the presence of His Holy Spirit in the believer's body. We do not need to wait for that. The presence of God's very Spirit in a person, or in the case of an unbeliever the possibility that this happy circumstance could come to pass, is in fact a compelling reason for Christians to seek the preservation of human lives. To desire that Terri Schiavo not be sent to the afterlife before her appointed time is therefore neither strange nor perverse—it is thoroughly Christian.

Death is Rarely Easy

The Terri Schiavo case started a stampede to create living wills, which often include such instructions as, “I do not want artificial nutrition and hydration if that would be the main treatment keeping me alive.” That means no feeding tube, except as a temporary expedient.

My mother wrote such a living will a few years before she died of Alzheimer’s at 90. At the end she refused to open her mouth for food or water, consciously or not. Knowing her wishes, my sister and I were not about to force a tube down her throat.

Although death from Alzheimer’s was imminent and inevitable, the immediate cause of my mother’s death was probably dehydration (which precedes starvation). That is not uncommon at all. On the contrary, that is exactly how many if not most elderly people die if (1) they are not fortunate to die quickly and (2) they have left instructions that they do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means. Those present when my mother died said she did not appear to be in pain, though morphine would have been available if she had needed it. A morphine overdose might well have been more merciful, but laws against euthanasia leave no legal alternative to death by dehydration in many cases. Those who now bemoan death by dehydration usually admire laws against euthanasia, which is somewhat inconsistent when those are often the only two options for those who abhor prolonged artificial life support.

Many people believe themselves qualified to speak in the abstract about such matters, particularly concerning people they do not know. And they claim to view such tough choices as a clear and simple distinction between right and wrong.

I would first like to ask anyone blessed with such moral certitude if they object to living wills in principle (perhaps viewing such an Advance Medical Directive as akin to suicide). If not, I would ask if he or she could possibly imagine writing a living will for himself or herself that would instruct physicians to maintain the body by any means possible, even if the person in question was unable to move or communicate for 15 years (and potentially much longer). If they could honestly answer that question in the affirmative, I would ask how certain they are that such a fate is preferable to being buried alive with an oxygen tube and plenty of food and water.

Many who profess belief in a glorious afterlife have nonetheless become curiously agitated on behalf of clinging to the faintest semblance of life by unnatural means. This makes no theological sense unless Mrs. Schiavo is assumed to be damned, which seems a very unChristian presumption.

Killing the Innocent, Sparing the Guilty—Who Is Responsible

Yesterday, federal district court judge James D. Whittemore, in denying the appeal of Terry Schiavo's parents that the state require that their daughter's food and water be resumed, said, "the plain language of the 14th Amendment contemplates that a person can be deprived of life so long as due process of law is provided."

That is certainly correct.

It is, however, a perverse society indeed that rules that every vicious murderer under the age of 18 merits constitutional protection and cannot be executed, but we must allow the killing of a disabled woman whose husband claims she was appalled by the conditions of characters in bad TV movies a couple of decades ago.

We set off down this path, of course, when it was decided that the Constitution required state governments to allow doctors to kill children in the womb.

We have been led all the way to this current Mount of Olives by the nation's courts. The truly great shame, however, is that our legislators and executives have concurred in this judicial usurpation of their powers.

They are every bit as responsible as the courts. Therefore we, who elected them, are fully responsible for the present awful situation.

Florida governor Jeb Bush has tried to work with the courts to resolve the problem, but the Florida judges continue to insist that the state's courts' previous decisions in this matter have been unerring. A governor, however, has broad powers, and state statutes allow for the removal of a person who is under the care of another who has neglected them. The deliberate denial of food and water is worse than neglect. The only people who would be angry if Gov. Bush intervened to save Terri Schiavo's life are his most implacable enemies.

If Jeb Bush does not intervene, George Bush should do so.

If neither of those men musters up the courage to save Terri Schiavo, then truly we, the citizens of this nation who elected the governors, legislators, judges, and presidents who brought us to this pass, are ultimately responsible.

On this day of all days, Terri Schiavo's plight should be an arrow to the conscience of every American.