Friday, January 30, 2009

The Steele Pick

As you've probably already heard, the Republican Party has chosen its first African-American party chairman:
WASHINGTON — Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, was elected the chairman of the Republican National Committee on Friday as the party chose its first African-American leader in a vote that signaled a desire by Republican leaders to put a new face on an embattled party. [...]

Mr. Steele also represented an important break for Republicans for another reason: He was one of two outsiders — non-members of the committee — running to be its leader. Historically, the party typically chooses members to be its leaders.

Mr. Steele accepted the selection after a prolonged standing ovation from members who were clearly tired after five hours of voting.

“As a little boy growing up in this town, this is awesome,” he said.
The New York Times article fails to mention a few other things about Mr. Steele: he's pro-life, he's Catholic, and he's a former seminarian:
Deal Hudson, a Catholic political commentator, explained that he first became convinced of Steele's pro-life convictions by a 2003 meeting he invited Steele to with the U.S. Catholic bishops' executive committee.

According to Hudson, Steele spoke "very directly, but diplomatically, to the bishops about their need to promote the pro-life cause with greater vigor. He talked about his disappointment with their leadership and its consequences among the African-American community. When he finished talking there was a powerful silence in the room."

Steele's pro-life credentials were even further verified by his 2006 Senate run in Maryland, Hudson said.

The new chaiman was in good spirits Friday as he accepted the top post of the Republican National Committee. "It's time for something completely different, and we're gonna bring it to them," he said, according to FOX News. "Get ready, baby. It's time to turn it on."

"People like Mike," former Governor of Maryland Robert Ehrlich Jr. told the Baltimore Sun. "He's really charismatic. He's a really solid person. He's a solid family guy."

Michael Steele’s Catholic roots include attending Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington D.C. and then, in 1981, entering the seminary to study for the Augustinian Friars at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

I know that there are some conservative concerns about Mr. Steele, who is seen as being more moderate than some of the other candidates for the chairman position. But aside from some confusion about whether Mr. Steele supports overturning Roe v. Wade there is little question that he takes pro-life positions in general, and thus is in a position to be a powerful voice for the unborn within the RNC.

Time will tell, of course. But I find this choice interesting, and maybe even a little bit encouraging.

Friday Cleaning

Once again, I'm late posting on a Friday. I think the reason is that just like clockwork, our schedule has rotated around until we're doing our major housecleaning on Friday afternoons.

I never really intend for this to happen. I much prefer cleaning routines that are spread out over the week, with so much on Monday, so much on Tuesday, and so on. But somehow every year between Christmas break and the advent of Lent/Third Quarter Blues season, my routine deteriorates to the point where Friday becomes the catch-all day to get most of the housework done.

I'm not sure whether it's Holiday Mode that starts the process, though I suspect that it is. You know what I mean--you clean so much in preparation for Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially if you have company coming, and then you sort of coast along with "lick and a promise" style housework as you celebrate and go to church lots of extra times and enjoy the season and...one day it's the end of January and you're still operating on the same principle.

Which is what happened to me today.

So, while I do still plan to get out here a little later this evening and write about the new RNC chairman and possibly one other little thing, at the moment I have to go clean something else before it's time for dinner.

Got any great cleaning routine secrets to share? According to this Blogthings quiz, I could use a little help:




You Are a Little Messy



You aren't the cleanest person in the world, but you're definitely not a slob.

You clean up when you have the time, but you're realistic about what you can get done.

Generally, you're pretty organized and tidy - though you may have a few hidden messes.

You eventually get around to making things spotless, but you do it on your own schedule!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Equal Pay?

So, President Obama signed his first piece of legislation today:
With the stroke of a pen, President Obama signed his first bill into law and fulfilled a campaign promise to help make it easier to sue for equal pay.

The bill is named for an Alabama woman who found out her employer, Goodyear, had been paying her less than her male counterparts for years, but she was prevented from suing because of a statute of limitations in effect at the time. The new law effectively extends the statute of limitations.

Obama spoke often of the equal pay issue during the campaign, as did then-rival Hillary Clinton. And the president made special note of the fact that this was the first piece of legislation he was signing into law.

"It is fitting that the very first bill that I sign -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act -- that it is upholding one of this nation's founding principles: that we are all created equal, and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness," he said.

A couple of quick things, first: is there any sillier way to start this article than "With the stroke of a pen..."? Especially since Obama, like most recent presidents, used several pens to sign it?

Second, "our own version of happiness..."? Kind of relativistic, isn't it?

Now on to the substance: I have no problem in theory with the notion of equal work and equal pay. There is no denying that in the past women were sometimes paid less than their male counterparts to do the same jobs, and that's not a just situation.

However, in practice the notion of equal work/equal pay often creates an impossible situation for employers and employees alike. In a department with three men and five women, for instance, what happens when one of the men is doing an outstanding job and deserves a raise? Will he get it--or will the employer be pressured to keep all the men's pay equal to or less than the women's pay in order to avoid lawsuits and charges of discrimination?

Moreover, it can be difficult in some fields of employment to define "equal work;" while corporate jobs can be somewhat easy to compare, what happens, for instance, when three retail employees all have the title "store associate," but one of them is a cashier, one is a salesclerk, and one is responsible for assisting in unloading merchandise from a truck? Are these "equal work" jobs that should be paid exactly the same--and can the cashier sue if her male co-worker in the receiving department makes a few dollars more an hour than she does?

This new law makes it easier for those who believe they have been victims of pay disparity to sue their employers, by making the statute of limitations much longer than it was previously. I think the effect of that will be to make employers decide to flatten as many pay levels as possible to avoid being sued, effectively depressing wages across the board. Granted, employers are already depressing wages and eliminating jobs to deal with the economic downturn, but this will add another layer to that effort.

The biggest problem I have with "equal pay" efforts, though, is that the only time I was ever aware of unequal pay at a company where I worked, the people being paid less were the white males in the department (I can't give details, I'm afraid). No one in the company considered this an unjust situation; it was what had to happen in order to pay higher salaries and offer more promotion opportunities to women and minorities, as expected by other federal civil rights legislation. It would have been possible for the white men in certain jobs in that company to prove that they were being paid less than their female or minority counterparts--but I wonder if they would have been successful in a lawsuit; after all, there were plenty of highly-paid Ivy League graduate white males in the same company's management positions, so clearly the company didn't discriminate against white males per se.

Like so many efforts, well-intentioned though they may be, to end discrimination, equal-pay efforts may end up making it quasi-legal to discriminate against white men. We can't fight injustice by creating new injustices; ending discrimination against one group by shifting the discrimination to another will ultimately backfire.


Frozen Hearts

In the past few days, two separate incidents of indifference and inhumanity in the face of death have caught the attention of the media.

The first is the case of Marvin Schur, the 93-year-old veteran who froze to death inside his home:

BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) — When neighbors went inside Marvin Schur's house, the windows were frosted over, icicles hung from a faucet, and the 93-year-old World War II veteran lay dead on the bedroom floor in a winter jacket over four layers of clothing.

He froze to death — slowly and painfully, authorities say — days after the electric company installed a power-limiting device because of more than $1,000 in unpaid bills.

The old man's sad end two weeks ago has led to outrage, soul-searching and a resolve never to let something like this happen again. [...]

On Jan. 13, a worker with the city-owned utility installed a "limiter" on Schur's electric meter after four months of unpaid bills. The device restricts power and blows like a fuse if usage rises past a set level. Electricity is not restored until the device is flipped back on by the homeowner, who must walk outside to the meter.

Bay City Electric Light & Power did not contact Schur face-to-face to notify him of the device and explain how it works, instead following its usual policy by leaving a note on the door. But neighbors said Schur rarely, if ever, left the house in the cold. [...]

Bay City Manager Robert Belleman said that he was "deeply saddened" by Schur's death and that State Police will investigate. But he also said neighbors have a responsibility to each other.

"I've said this before and some of my colleagues have said this: Neighbors need to keep an eye on neighbors," Belleman said. "When they think there's something wrong, they should contact the appropriate agency or city department."

It's the attitude of Bay City Electric Light & Power that is so terrible in all of this. The neighbors did know Schur--and knew better than to expect to see him outside in such terrible weather, with temperatures dropping into the single digits. Schur's nephew knew Schur usually paid his bills on time and had plenty of money, too--but the nephew, who lived in Florida, apparently had no idea his uncle had missed four utility payments. Only the utility company was in a position to know that anything was wrong, and their approach, to install a limiter without explaining how it would work at the home of a nonagenarian without making the slightest attempt to see or speak to a man who had paid all of his bills without fail until just a few months ago, ended up being fatal to Mr. Schur. But the power company blames the neighbors.

The second case, in some ways, is worse. If you're sensitive, don't click this link to the essay; there's a photo of the body of the homeless man frozen in ice in the basement of an abandoned building--and left there and ignored, until reporter Charlie LeDuff got involved:

It starts with a phone call made by a man who said his friend found a dead body in the elevator shaft of an abandoned building on the city's west side.

"He's encased in ice, except his legs, which are sticking out like Popsicle sticks," the caller phoned to tell this reporter.

Why didn't your friend call the police?"

"He was trespassing and didn't want to get in trouble," the caller replied. As it happens, the caller's friend is an urban explorer who gets thrills rummaging through and photographing the ruins of Detroit. It turns out that this explorer last week was playing hockey with a group of other explorers on the frozen waters that had collected in the basement of the building. None of the men called the police, the explorer said. They, in fact, continued their hockey game.

Before calling the police, this reporter went to check on the tip, skeptical of a hoax. Sure enough, in the well of the cargo elevator, two feet jutted out above the ice. Closer inspection revealed that the rest of the body was encased in 2-3 feet of ice, the body prostrate, suspended into the ice like a porpoising walrus.

The hem of a beige jacket could be made out, as could the cuffs of blue jeans. The socks were relatively clean and white. The left shoe was worn at the heel but carried fresh laces. Adding to the macabre and incongruous scene was a pillow that gently propped up the left foot of the corpse. It looked almost peaceful. [...]

Convinced that it was indeed a body, this reporter made a discreet call to a police officer.

"Aw, just give 911 a call," the cop said. "We'll be called eventually."

A call was placed to 911. A woman answered. She was told it was a reporter calling. The operator tried to follow, but seemed confused. "Where is this building?"

She promised to contact the appropriate authorities.

Twenty minutes or so went by when 911 called the newsroom. This time it was a man.

"Where's this building?"

It was explained to him, as was the elevator shaft and the tomb of ice.

"Bring a jack-hammer," this reporter suggested.

"That's what we do," he said.

Nearly 24 hours went by. The elevator shaft was still a gaping wound. There was no crime scene tape. The homeless continued to burn their fires. City schoolchildren still do not have the necessary books to learn. The train station continues to crumble. Too many homicides still go unsolved.

After another two calls to 911 on Wednesday afternoon (one of which was disconnected), the Detroit Fire Department called and agreed to meet nearby.

Capt. Emma McDonald was on the scene.

"Every time I think I've seen it all, I see this," she said.

People went by this body for some time, and knew it was there. Most of them were homeless, trying not to become frozen corpses themselves, living on the streets of Detroit in winter. Some were not, but didn't call the police, either--or if they did, the response was like the first response to LeDuff's phone call--just call 911, said the police, and then somewhere along the way the ball was dropped. And nobody seemed to care.

Both of these people, Mr. Schur and the homeless man, were created in the image and likeness of God. But in our materialist culture that's an old-fashioned belief; to a materialist, both men were merely carbon, and not particularly valuable in any intrinsic way. Without a family support system, without one person nearby to whom either of these men were in any way important, both were simply left to die alone in the freezing cold. In the case of Mr. Schur, at least there is some public outrage; in the case of the homeless man in Detroit, though, there will probably be little more than an addition to a list of sad statistics.

How long does it take to freeze the heart of a nation? How many years of exalted individualism, idolized material prosperity, and the smug surety that one's own merits have gained one a comfortable and successful life does it take before a people begins to look on the unfortunate and tragic as being somehow deserving of their pain and suffering? How many years past a shared moral vision before the citizens of a country begin to have that curious blind spot that shrugs at stories like these, and thinks, "They should have been more careful, more wealthy, more popular, like me," blaming the victims and distancing themselves from such privation and hardship and even death?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bookgirl!

It's not just Jackson Pollack's birthday today, you know; here in the Manning house it's the birthday of our second daughter, the one who chose the nickname "Bookgirl." Bookgirl is 12 today, and I can't believe how fast the years are flying!

As indicated by her name, Bookgirl's favorite pastime is reading; she is a voracious reader who shares her mom's taste for imaginative fiction. Unlike mom, though, Bookgirl has discovered her arts and crafts side recently, and is sewing, crocheting, drawing and discovering up a storm of new talents. It's lucky she has an aunt nearby to teach her some of the many skills her uncrafty mother can't quite manage!

Thanks to the wintry weather here in Texas we're having a quiet birthday party at home today, but there's plenty of celebrating going on, with good food and party favors and games to play and birthday apple pie instead of cake--by special request--to look forward to this evening. So I'm just popping in here to share our joy on this special occasion, and then I'm back to the celebration!

Happy birthday, Bookgirl! We love you!

Google's Random Honorifics

Yesterday I saw Karen Edmisten's post commemorating Mozart's birthday--and wondering why Google didn't have a logo change in honor of the great composer.

Today, of course, Google's logo commemorates the birthday of abstract artist Jackson Pollock, whose paintings tend to polarize art critics, some of whom see them as deep expressive works of pure emotion, and others of whom tend to think of them as little better than these--or maybe not better, considering what these artists have to work with.

Now, I realize that Google may not have chosen to honor Mozart for many reasons--after all, there are so many notable people of the past whose birthdays pass by each day that Google can't possible feature them all. But I have noticed a tendency by the Internet giant to honor the recent, the modern, the non-Christian or non-Western, while avoiding honoring the ancient and venerable, the traditional, the Christian or Western.

And that's too bad, because without the ancient and venerable and traditional and Christian and Western we wouldn't have much of a civilization, would we?

Consider Norman Rockwell's painting.


As a wise person pointed out, we can see that Norman Rockwell could paint a Pollock--but could Jackson Pollock paint a Rockwell?

By unmooring itself from the artistic traditions of the past, modern art in all its forms sought freedom. Man yearns to be free; it's a powerful desire, and in art this desire led to abstract painting and interpretive dance and modern musical composition and modern drama and all the many other things that self-consciously threw off the perceived shackles of the rules of previous ages.

But it was the discipline of previous ages that led the modern artist to this place of seeking such freedom; modern art was rebellion, and rebellion is always a negative. One must rebel against something; one may not rebel toward something. And so modern art always falls back against itself, exhausted with its own importance, just in time to realize that it has sown the seeds of its own destruction--for without that crucial aspect of rebellion modern art becomes a greater and slicker commercial cliche than all the traditional art against which it ranted for being too conformist.

Worse, as the new forms are so divorced from the tradition of art, there comes a time when the philistine critique of modern art--"anybody can do that!"--becomes quite literally true. Anybody can paint a few stripes of color across a canvas, or even drip layers of paint onto it; and the customer can ask this anybody artist that the stripes or the drips match a mass-produced sofa or compliment a shelf full of kitsch in porcelain or glass.

And Google's honoring of Pollock reinforces the notion that Pollock's importance was as a liberator, a person who made art something that anybody can do. But if that is the purpose of modern art, then its purpose is so small, compared to the great and noble ability of the art of the past to convey universal truth, to uplift and inspire, and to reflect, just a little, that Divinity in Whose image man is made.

***************

Since we're on the topic of art, do have a look at Timothy Jones' art--this page shows some of his paintings, and this link takes you to his Etsy store. The artwork is beautiful! Unfortunately the artist is soon to be out of a job, so if you're looking to buy a painting that is a departure from the chaos of modern art, please consider buying one of these incredible works.

Update: Hatchick's comment, on seeing the Google logo: "That's not art. That's just a mess."

:)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Legacy Woes

He's been in office one whole week, and already Barack Obama is worried about his legacy:

PRESIDENT Barack Obama told Republicans behind closed doors that he worried about the soaring US debt because "I will be judged by the legacy I leave behind" on the economy, a source said.

Wooing lawmakers openly hostile to his stimulus plan, Mr Obama also warned that the current recession was "different, deeper, and global,'' and that inaction could cause "irreparable'' economic damage, said a Republican participant.

But "nobody is more worried about the deficit and the debt than me,'' he told Republicans who charge the $US825 billion (1.2 trillion) stimulus plan is far too large and packs far too little economic punch, the source said.

"I will be judged by the legacy I have left behind. I don't want to leave our children with a legacy of debt. I am inheriting an annual yearly debt of over $US1 trillion,'' the official quoted Mr Obama as saying.

Is it just me, or is President Obama's concern about his legacy a little out of place?

In better stimulus package news, it looks like the contraceptives are out:

NBC News confirms that the president called Henry Waxman, the chairman of the committee that inserted the contraception provision into the stimulus during the mark up last week, to ask him to remove the measure from the bill, according to a Democratic leadership source.

In short, the idea has simply become too controversial. Speaker Nancy Pelosi's defense of the program over the weekend, where she indicated that it would be a money saver, was not well received.

So that provision is out.

Good thing; otherwise, Nancy might have had to get used to unflattering comparisons between herself and one E. Scrooge, whose quote about the poor is well known:

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." [Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol]

Nancy Pelosi went one better, though, by insisting that the poor could save the economy by failing to be conceived in the first place. What kind of savvy Democrat tells her poverty-stricken constituents that the best way for them to help the economy is to stop having children?

Republicans are continuing to raise concerns about the stimulus package:

Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama said Republicans and Democrats should put politics aside to meet the urgent need for an economic stimulus, and he promised to address financial regulations and keeping the banking system stable.

“The statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation,” Obama said after meeting with House Republicans, and before a session with their Senate counterparts. “The key right now is to make sure that we keep politics to a minimum.”

Obama made an unusual pilgrimage to the U.S. Capitol to talk with Republican lawmakers amid signs they are stepping up resistance to his economic stimulus plan over spending amounts and the size of tax cuts. Several Republican lawmakers said afterward that the president didn’t overcome their objections to the legislation as drafted by House Democrats.

“While the president was genial, his proposal remains rooted in a liberal, big-government ideology that ignores history,” said Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican.

On the one hand, I can't help but think "put politics aside" is code for "get used to doing whatever the Dems want." On the other, though, I fail to see how larger tax cuts are going to stimulate the economy at this point, since they don't address many of the root causes of the economic downturn.

Speaking of root causes, Obama will also be meeting with corporate CEOs to seek their backing of the stimulus plan:

After their chat, Obama will deliver remarks on the bill in the East Room but will not take reporters’ questions, according to press secretary Robert Gibbs.

While the president has not sat down with American reporters since moving into the White House, he gave his first TV interview to Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel. Mr. Obama spoke as his envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, arrived in Egypt on the first stop of a trip that also will take him to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Gibbs said Obama’s interview, which aired Tuesday, was an “opportunity to show the world he would be personally involved and engaged in seeking peace in the Middle East.”

The CEOs who visit Wednesday are likely to tell the president about hard times – and resulting layoffs – at their companies amid the economic downturn. The meeting with the titans of industry follows Obama’s trip Tuesday to Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans in the House and Senate to seek their support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

CEOs with multi-million dollar net worths telling the president how hard things are, while President Obama asks for their support of his stimulus plan. Hmmm. That would be a good time to be a fly on the wall.

Meanwhile, in the real world, as people are suffering real hardships from the loss of good jobs and even their homes, all of this means little. We've already had a $400 billion bailout; Obama's is more than twice that size, yet there are no guarantees that the people most in need of help will ever get it. Time will tell whether these bailouts will add up to enough to pull Americans back from the brink of a Depression, or whether they are too much-- but too late.

Maybe Obama's right to be worried about his legacy, after all.

Silence vs. the Siren Song

On a homeschooling forum I visit, a mom posted about a problem that's cropping up more and more these days. I had planned to write about it myself, given our family's recent encounter with this nearly-ubiquitous annoyance.

I'm speaking of the growing tendency of restaurants, doctor's offices, car repair shops, grocery stores, and a host of other public places to place large television screens all over their walls, and to keep these TVs on and running during normal operating hours.

On the forum, some people spoke of simply asking if others wanted the TV on, and then turning it off--a bold but successful way of dealing with the thing. Unfortunately, the TVs my family and I have encountered recently stymie this simple approach: they are large flat-panel wall-mounted TVs with no reachable controls, which would require a request to employees or management to turn the sets off.

Worse, both of the TV sets we encountered were tuned in to cable news channels. The office of the cardiologist where I went to get my stress test results (perfectly normal, my heart's in good shape, I just have blood pressure to deal with!) was running a Texas cable news channel, while the fast food restaurant we stopped in at on Saturday was running CNN. So during our lengthy doctor's office wait and our lunch out, we heard the following news stories:
  • A deadly bar fight that ended in the stabbing death of one person and the injury of another;
  • Various car accident fatalities;
  • A doctor arrested for possessing child pornography, with discussions of same;
  • and so on.
Now, my children aren't babies; our youngest is ten. But there is something very disturbing about having adult issues and adult crimes discussed over the heads (literally) of one's children, knowing they can't completely block out the noise even if they don't look at the images. And younger children may not even do that--the screen is so mesmerizing, with its flashes of light and color.

And they absorb it, our children. They hear these words of violence and vice, and see the sometimes-gory or frightening images. It changes the world, a little bit at a time, from a safe and loving place to something filled with indescribable monsters and unimaginable fears.

It's bad enough when the television set is tuned to something most people would think of as "safe" for kids, like an all-news channel. But what happens when these large, out of reach TVs start to display daytime talk shows, soap operas, and other assorted filth from the collection of cultural decay on display over the airwaves? What happens when the adults in the doctor's office or restaurant have decided they'd like to watch the Maury Povich show, and have gotten too caught up in the latest paternity fight to agree to change the channel for the sake of the children present?

In some ways, we've been fighting this cultural battle for some time. Every time we pass a magazine rack in a grocery store or bookstore, we say to our children "Don't look." The same thing happens if we walk past a movie theater whose posters are advertising immoral films, or if we have the misfortune of living somewhere where people often dress for the beach instead of for public places.

But "Don't look" doesn't work for the ugliness radiating from the television screen. The sounds alone are enough to fill the mind with unsettling thoughts and corruption. Adults may have the skills to block this noise pollution, but children do not. They become the innocent victims of our culture's increasing slide into the cesspool of moral degeneracy; their minds and souls are under constant attack by the siren song of a world which denies God and mocks virtue.

And though some might think that having the TV constantly on in public places is fine so long as the shows are geared toward children, the questions then become "Which shows?" and "Whose children?" Not every parent approves of Barney or SpongeBob; not every child is prepared for the latest PG-rated "kids' movie" which features gross toilet humor and perilous situations. Ultimately we're letting the public sector choose what sort of programming ought to be appropriate for our children; this is an egregious trespass by the people making those decisions into the territory of parental rights.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the reality that we've become the sort of culture that hates and attacks silence. We fill our spaces with loud voices and confusion on purpose; from the constantly-on TV or video games at home to these same toys running in our cars to the expectation that we will be amused and entertained in every public place we enter by the chattering heads on a big screen TV we fight against the very notion of quiet introspection. But a culture that has grown to hate silence is a culture incapable of experiencing God; we cannot "be still and know" when we cannot be still or find stillness, but must be always surrounded by noise.

Whether the frenetic waves of sound come from a garish cartoon with dubious values, or whether they speak in crisply and professionally shocked tones of the violence and mayhem in our communities, the goal is the same: to suck us and our children into the prevailing culture and make us all clamor for it. The disappearance of polite quiet, punctuated by the normal human sounds of conversation, children laughing, crying, or both, and similar ambient sounds, and the replacement of these by the artificial din of recorded voices demanding our attention and promising to amuse or inform so long as we pay them homage is not a good cultural development; it is, in many ways, yet another way that those of us who choose to live at least somewhat in opposition to the prevailing culture find ourselves increasingly incapable of shutting it out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Forced Perspective

This is going to be a long one, folks. But when Politico publishes a lengthy article that's just begging to be fisked, what's a blogger to do?

The article is here. My comments will be in red (well, naturally). All emphasis is added:
After poking fun at George W. Bush for eight years — often drawing him with big ears and a severe overbite, or as a gung-ho Joe College type, or simply as a clueless doofus — political cartoonists are finding Barack Obama a more elusive target. [Of course. Because making fun of The One is practically blasphemy, you know.]

Bush's emotive facial expressions, easy-to-caricature physical features [!! Objective journalism alert!] and, most of, all his deeply unpopular [Well, everybody Politico knows hated them, anyway] political decisions were fodder for liberal-leaning cartoonists. But the cool and detached [There's that objective journalism again] Obama enters the White House at a time of considerable economic anxiety, bolstered by wishes of goodwill even from some political opponents. [Which is wild, man, 'cause Lord knows liberals never wish their political opponents any good will--it's like, bad karma or something.]

"I had all my villains in place for eight years and they've been taken away," lamented Pulitzer Prize winner Pat Oliphant, one of the most widely syndicated cartoonists. "I don't know that I've ever had this experience before, of a president I maybe like. [Maybe? The way Michael Moore maybe likes attention, perhaps.] This is an antagonistic art. We're supposed to concentrate on finding things wrong. There's no point in drawing a cartoon that's favorable."

Amid a worsening recession, there is the question of what appetite exists for ridiculing a chief executive seen as earnestly trying to guide the country toward recovery. [Really? This question exists? Among whom, exactly?] Racial sensitivities also are an issue, [Well, yes; any criticism of Obama is already reframed as racism, and cartoonists are aware of that] as reflected in last summer's uproar over the New Yorker cover of the Democratic candidate giving his wife — depicted as a gun-toting, Angela Davis look-alike — a fist jab in the Oval Office.

Editorial cartoonists are feeling their way through the uncharted territory, slowly drawing a bead on satire that will singe but not burn. [Why? Do they usually do this for presidents?]

"It always takes a while to get a handle on new administrations, getting to know the players and working on developing effective caricatures," said Ann Telnaes, who draws the animated cartoons for Washington Post online and won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. "My earlier George W. Bush changed quite a bit over the first year."

Professional drawers suggest that Obama may prove an inviting target once ensconced in the White House, though for reasons distinct from his predecessor. Signe Wilkinson, editorial cartoonist at the Philadelphia Daily News, said Obama's penchant for attracting academic eggheads and over-achieving intellectuals will be one way to poke fun at the new president. [Wait...he's funny because he surrounds himself with smart people?]

"Just the same way I resented having a bunch of really smart neocons tell us how great the war in Iraq was going to be, Obama's lining up a bunch of technocrats telling us how they're going to bring heaven on earth," said Wilkinson, a 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner. "If he does everything he says he's going to do and the economy makes an immediate U-turn and peace breaks out in the Middle East, I would say we're going to be in trouble. [In other words, if he lives up to the pre-election hype...] But absent that, I think we'll be OK."

During the presidential campaign, cartoonists frequently homed in on Obama's measured temperament, [Another objective journalism alert!] with more critical strips caricaturing him as cold and aloof. More often than not, though, drawings were complimentary. One showed him mending a Constitution shredded by Bush, and another depicted him as a symbol of 1960s civil rights struggles. [No media bias there, right?] Cartoons regularly portrayed Obama as rail-thin with big ears or playing basketball (one of his passions) or placed him in a pantheon [Really? A pantheon? As in, a dwelling for gods?] with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

Oliphant complained that Obama's physical features don't naturally lend themselves to caricature. [I think the suitability for caricature is in the eyes of the beholder...]

"With Bush, you had that general vacuity -- those blanked-out eyes and those goofy expressions. As for Obama, Thank God for his ears. A good-looking president isn't good for cartooning." [Mr. Oliphant is clearly a paragon of objective journalism, able to draw editorial cartoons that reflect no bias whatsoever...Oh, I know. Editorial cartoons are editorial, which means they're opinion journalism. And most editorial cartoonists are very liberal. But the media still thinks that they're not biased--regardless of the fact that the majority of editorial cartoonists, editorial writers, etc. at each major newspaper are left-leaning liberal Democrats...]

Wilkinson said she sees a model for Obama in her drawings of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, another Ivy League-educated, African-American politician -- and a frequent editorial target.

"He brought in a bunch of technocrats who were going to make things run perfectly," she said. "But I have found quite a few issues to cartoon Michael Nutter, and I don't think there's going to be a lack of them for Obama." [Well, that's good.]

Cartoonists take umbrage at the suggestion they will go soft on Obama because they agree with him ideologically [Even though that's exactly what they themselves are saying; at least, that's what Mr. Oliphant is saying, at the beginning of this very article...]. The cartoon landscape will probably be similar to the early presidential days of Bill Clinton, whom they came to regard as a wayward friend, [As opposed to George W. Bush, whom they always regarded as an implacable enemy, clearly.] Wilkinson said.

"The Clintons came in with a great deal of hope," [Hmm, that sounds familiar.] she recalled. "You want to be supportive for the home team. So if you like them and they're the home team, it's a little harder to make fun of them. [No comment. None is necessary, is it?] Having said that, cartoonists did plenty of cartoons on Bill Clinton." [Sure, once his peccadilloes became impossible to ignore.]

Telnaes said her brethren will be careful not to soft-peddle problems and mistakes, particularly as the new president grapples with the economic crisis. [Wait...didn't the article say above that cartoonists are worried that the public doesn't want Obama criticized as he grapples with the economic crisis? I'm confused...]

During the first Bush term, "editorial cartoonists had the same problem as the [mainstream media] had leading up to and during the Iraq war. It was difficult to criticize the administration and not be labeled anti-American during the earlier years," [Gosh, I don't remember that stopping anybody--do you?] she said. "There was a small group of cartoonists who did their job, but on the whole, we dropped the ball."

But even if Obama proves disappointing as a cartoon subject, several new faces on the political scene will provide fresh material, [Sure...jokes about various obscure administration officials will substitute for poking fun at the president.] Wilkinson said.

"You wonder if we're going to have things to work with over the next administration?" she asked. "I get to draw a sexy guy, Sanjay Gupta, Obama's reported pick for surgeon general, as well as freshly appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.). And White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has a real Machiavellian look -- those dark eyes. But most of my readers don't know who Rahm Emanuel is." [Which is pretty appalling, when you come to think of it; that objective media is so good at reporting fairly that the Philadelphia Daily News's own cartoonist doesn't think her readers know who Rahm Emanuel is!]

Oliphant is also looking toward old targets, specifically the Clintons, [As Ronald Reagan would say, "There you go again."] for material. Hillary Clinton's appointment as secretary of state, and by extension her husband, [Sure, Bill is funny. Or nauseating, depending on your perspective. But he's not the president--he's not even the president's husband, much to her great disappointment. So is the Obama policy "Hands off!"? We'll soon see.] will keep him busy, he said.

"At least the Clintons are back. They've never let me down yet."

Tell me again, O Mainstream Media, how centrist and balanced and fair you are, and how your dropping-like-a-rock circulation numbers is all due to the new technology, not to the fact that about half the country finds you about as relevant to their daily lives as air fresheners would be to the ichthyoid inhabitants of Sea World. And keep telling me, when disgust at your blatant worship of our new president translates into cancelled subscriptions and out-of-work editorial cartoonists, who are so busy digging their own unemployment graves that they won't realize their role in their irrelevance until long after the fact.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Exporting the Culture of Death

Well, he waited until the crowds of joyful pro-life marchers had gone home, leaving DC to the usual sycophants, toadies, lackeys, flatterers and yes-men who usually have the run of the place. But then Barack Obama did what we thought he'd do, and signed the order to export America's hatred of unborn babies to the rest of the world:

The order comes the day after the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States.

It reverses the "Mexico City policy," initiated by President Reagan in 1984, canceled by President Clinton and reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001.

The policy, referred to by critics as "the global gag rule," was initially announced at a population conference in Mexico City.

The policy says that any organization receiving U.S. family planning funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development cannot offer abortions or abortion counseling.

It's bad enough that we go into communities and among cultures where children are still valued highly, where mothers--many of them Catholic--would desperately like better maternity care to help them when they give birth, but are instead handed a pack of pills or an injection of Norplant--along with lies, sometimes, about what these are or what they will do.

But now the push to get women in developing nations to embrace the culture of death can't end with contraception. No, the ugliness of the human-haters won't be satisfied until there's an American-funded abortion clinic in every corner of the globe.

So he waited, President Obama did, until the day after the Roe v. Wade anniversary to sign Planned Parenthood's global permission slip. He waited until the crowds had left and the protesters had gone home. But there was never any question that he would give the death-eaters exactly what they wanted; he's always been one of them. And his abortion agenda, to increase abortion at home and abroad, to fund it and encourage it and promote it and spread it, has always been clearly advertised--but plenty of people didn't want to believe it.

How could a man who ran on a campaign of "Hope" possibly be so committed to the most hopeless, lifeless, soulless act a human can possibly commit against another human? they wondered. And some of them convinced themselves that he wasn't, really, that it was all just rhetoric, just empty words like the Republicans' pro-life slogans.

Except that the Republicans' "empty words" were really deeds, like reinstating the Mexico City policy in the first place. And the rhetoric of Barack Obama is deadly--because by it he plans to keep on exporting the culture of death.

The Moment of the Rose

I came across it again, the other day, on a mommy blog I sometimes visit--sad news. News of a little one, carried, expected, longed for, lost. News full of real sorrow, of prayers and virtual hugs from friends far away and real ones from friends close at hand; news of the sort that someone close has shared at least once. I am one of the lucky women who has not thus far had a miscarriage, but I know many such women, family and friends. Their grief has touched my life, and the little ones they loved and named and prayed for and sometimes buried are remembered in my heart.

Our world has a tendency to close collective eyes to such grief; it isn't politically correct to mourn the loss of what other women freely chose to kill, after all. Doctors and nurses are often cold and utilitarian, dealing with the aftermath of the death of a loved unborn family member; even when they try to be consoling, they say things that sting--reminding the mother, perhaps, to forget all about it and be glad for the children she does have, as if her grief somehow diminishes her love for these; or saying heartily that after all, she's young, she can try again...as if the little one now gone can be "replaced" by a future sibling he or she will not know on this earth.

But even more troubling than these things are the doubts and fears that may swirl around the thoughts of those close to the situation: where is God's will, in so early a death? For what purpose does our loving and merciful Creator call into being a life that will be cut so very short? Why does He allow this?

In some way, of course, what He allows is simply nature after the Fall. We are not immortal in body, and the natural processes of fertility and conception allow for such losses to take place. Just as our bodies are prone to sickness, disease, and eventually death, so to is it possible for a life to end only moments or hours or days or weeks after it has begun, before the little one has ever seen his mother's face. To the extent that it seems cruel, it is not the Creator's cruelty; He did not design us for this, and it was because of the sin of our first parents that death entered into the world at all.

But in another way, what we struggle with is what the poet T.S. Eliot defined, when he wrote:
"The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration."
Because we are physical creatures who can only perceive reality by referring to such concepts as "space" and "time," we think that the life of an unborn baby who dies in utero is unbearably, unbelievably short; we may similarly think that a person who lives past the century-mark has lingered on this earth far too long, especially if all those years have not added wisdom nor increased grace, as may sometimes happen. For the one to have only weeks while the other's life spans decades seems like a strange riddle, a puzzling paradox beyond our comprehension. Many find themselves doubting the existence of a merciful and benevolent God when they look at the question this way: why should the young and innocent perish, or the aged and (sometimes) wicked flourish?

But if we frame the question that way, we forget that reality that Eliot so beautifully expresses. We don't have years--none of us. We don't have decades or minutes or hours or even seconds in their brevity. We have only moments; we have only now.

And in God's mysterious and unfathomable eternity, the moment of the rose really is just as long as the moment of the yew tree. And the moment of the human soul is more than either of these, for these were not created for eternity, as we are. Our "now" will last forever, whether we are on this earth five weeks or ninety-five years. We who are born and live this earthly life have however much time God has set before us to learn to do His will; those called away before the hour of birth may be given a chance to do the same, for all we yet know. We know for certain that the merciful God who sent His only Son to suffer and die for every human being, no matter how small, will not abandon these precious souls, though just what happens may remain forever in this life a mystery.

It is in the great mercy and love of Almighty God that all of us find our consolation, and this is no less true for the mother who suffers the pain of the loss of a child to miscarriage. She who puts her trust in Him will not be disappointed; He will send comfort and healing, and lead her back to that joy, rooted in hope, which is the gift He gives to every Christian soul.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Images

Though the news coverage of today's March for Life has remained scanty as always, I'm eagerly awaiting reports both from Catholic bloggers who were in attendance and from my relatives who managed to go; I'm really hoping my family members got some pictures and will let me share them here.

In the mean time, though, a couple of news photos caught my eye, and I've borrowed Despair.com's DIY Demotivator tool to make a couple of posters:



God bless everyone who went to DC today to march for the protection of the right to life of all human beings from conception to natural death. We were with you in prayer, even if we couldn't be beside you today.

Preaching To the Choir?

There's a notion out there in the secular world that all Catholics consider themselves pro-life, that Catholic parishes spend all sorts of time preaching and educating the faithful on life issues, that to be Catholic is to be constantly called to obey the Church's teachings on the sanctity of life and on the dignity of marriage, including the avoidance of contraception. But as Catholics know, this sort of "preaching to the choir" in terms of life issues is hardly the reality in many, if not most, Catholic parishes today; things have gotten so bad in some places that parishioners will march out of Mass on a Sunday if the priest mentions Church teachings on abortion and contraception.

And that reality is one reason why so many Catholics had no problem at all voting and campaigning for Barack Obama. If you read nothing else today, read this:

A simple web search for the order of presidential succession in the newly-minted Obama administration makes clear what a profound debacle the '08 election was for the pro-life movement in the United States. The country's top leadership now looks like a Who's Who of the National Abortion Rights Action League's "100% pro-choice" club. Largely ignored in the last election, abortion remains a massively important political issue. Catholics who did so should be ashamed of themselves for voting with disregard for a ticket and party that is inimical to a central moral tenet of their Church's teaching. Abortion kills.

This nation daily tolerates the willfully procured death of over 3,200 innocent and defenseless human beings, and that slaughter is an abomination far beyond other considerations that entered into electoral decisions last year. To maintain any sort of credible witness to the value of human life, Catholic leaders and faithful must choose to directly and publicly reengage the pro-life movement and to put John Paul II's Gospel of Life at the very top of their social and political agendas in the battles that lie ahead. [...]

The Respect Life community failed to make abortion a meaningful issue in the past election and the current situation is the sour fruit of that negligence. Catholics especially abandoned the unborn at the polls. At least 54% of those identifying themselves as Catholic supported President Obama, while "Church-going Catholics" voted 50% for McCain to Obama's 49%. Either number demonstrates an inability in the ecclesial hierarchy and the lay leadership in the Catholic Pro-life movement to make a convincing argument about the nature of the abortion act and the issue's relative importance versus other weighty but lesser political questions such as the election of African-American leaders, the economy, or the war on terror.

Abortion kills and its deadly impact is orders of magnitude beyond the violence of the Iraq war or any indignities visited upon detainees held at Guantanamo. However many millions of visitors may have journeyed to the Capital for this week's inaugural, it is certain that several million Americans never had the slightest chance of making it to the festivities. At least 45 million to be more accurate: all those aborted since the handing down of Roe v Wade. While the election of President Obama means good things for progress in racial integration in this nation, it cannot be ignored that abortion continues to heavily disproportionately target African-Americans, 13 million since 1973. [...]

Today, as the bunting comes down and crews disassemble the reviewing stands on Pennsylvania Avenue, the annual March for Life will stream quietly by the Capitol dome and Congress will prepare to debate the Freedom of Choice Act as a first order of business. This government is poised to push the pro-life movement in America into oblivion. Whether they decide to do so in the pulpit, the media, or in their extensive school networks, bishops, clergy and lay leaders in the Catholic Church will have to motivate their flocks to action if they want to see any movement out of the moral quagmire this country finds itself in on abortion.

I've been thinking about this today. How many of us live in dioceses where the diocesan "Respect Life" office is underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed, while offices for such things as "Peace and Justice" or "Diversity" flourish? How many of our parishes actively preach the Church's message against the sin of abortion? Of contraception, which creates the "need" for abortion in the first place by divorcing the fecundity of the marriage act from the act itself? How many parishes have an active pro-life ministry attached to the parish?

How many of us would wear pro-life jewelry to Mass on Sunday, or offer to provide some to a parish youth group or religious education program? How many of us have ever asked that prayers for the unborn be included in our parish's Prayers of the Faithful (if they aren't already)? How many of us have offered to organize a parish group to protest outside an abortion clinic, participate in a letter or postcard campaign, or otherwise show the community that our parish stands for life?

I think this election and its aftermath are a time for reflection on the things we can do, large and small, to raise the level of pro-life awareness in our parishes and dioceses. If we really want Catholics to become educated on life issues, to understand why we can't consider abortion as just one of many equal issues to weigh when deciding to vote, and to get involved in helping pro-life candidates for political office win future elections, then we can't wait--we need to figure out what we can do to help educate our fellow Catholics, and then do it.

It's no longer a matter of preaching to the choir; it's now a matter of witnessing to the truth about abortion in places where abortion isn't talked about nearly enough--and sadly, for many of us, that means in church.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Signs of Things to Come

Barack Obama wants to spend some of his political capital fighting autism. What could possibly be wrong with that? From the linked article:

Autism tops Barack Obama's medical to-do list, according to the new president's website. Whitehouse.gov launched at 12:01 pm yesterday, even before the new president had taken his oath of office on the Capitol's West Front. Autism is the only disorder or disease mentioned explicitly in Obama's 24-point agenda. Heart disease and cancer don't get the call. Neither does diabetes, or other chronic diseases. But there are four hefty bullet points addressing autism. Obama called for:

1. Increased funding for research, treatment, screenings, public awareness and support services for autism spectrum disorders.

2. "Life-long services" for people with autism spectrum disorders, as children and as adults. Many parents struggle to find and pay for screening and treatments for their children, but there is even less coverage and capacity for adults with autism-based impairments

3. More funding for the 2006 Combating Autism Act, as well as improving state and federal autism programs.

4. Universal screening for all infants for autism disorders, as well as re-screening for all 2-year-olds. This is the biggie; children are currently screened only if parents or pediatricians voice a concern, so too many children aren't diagnosed until they enter elementary school. The earlier treatment starts, the more effective it is, and a national screening program would help reduce the number of kids falling through the cracks. It would also be a huge undertaking, at a time when both government and privately insured health care is foundering.

I don't have any problems with points one through three, especially number two. I'd much rather have my federal tax dollars go to helping families care for their autistic children than to Planned Parenthood, for instance (though Obama plans to fund both, of course). But number four is giving me the shivers.

Why?

For one thing, as the article goes on to point out, autism can't be definitively diagnosed by, say, a blood test or some other clear-cut method. A child who displays some behavioral markers for autism might or might not end up on the autism spectrum, but mandates from the federal government for universal screening aren't necessarily going to emphasize that reality. The pressure will be on doctors to make early screening a "success," by identifying more and more children as being autistic or being on the autism spectrum.

And in a typical well-child visit, the doctor may only spend twenty minutes or so with a child. How is the doctor supposed to identify correctly that the child is showing some significant lack of development in language, social skills, or motor skills in that kind of time? How is a doctor supposed to make that decision at all when the first screening is supposed to be done when the child is nine months old?

Granted, many parents can and do notice such developmental delays, when they are severe enough; a nine-month-old who makes little or no effort at all to grasp objects, to smile back at someone, or to mimic language or form sounds is probably already being brought to the doctor by anxious parents wanting to know what is wrong. But for the more subtle cases, how is the doctor supposed to differentiate between a simple case of late blooming (especially in infants born prematurely) and some level of autism in a twenty-minute checkup?

The answer is simple: he isn't. What he is going to do is mark the child's chart to indicate some suspicion of autism, triggering automatic follow-up visits, visits with specialists, and possibly a whole barrage of social services all designed to clarify whether the child is indeed autistic, or on the spectrum, or neither.

Perhaps a small number of children whose diagnoses might have been delayed will be helped earlier by this, though it's too early to tell. But it's quite likely that many parents will be put through great anxiety and stress during the processes triggered by the mandatory screenings, only to be told after months of doctor visits and tests that their child doesn't appear to be autistic, and has caught up with his peers developmentally speaking.

What really bothers me about all of this is the attitude of fundamental distrust for parents that such mandatory screening programs represent. While it is true that autism can be a very frustrating and difficult to diagnose condition, it doesn't make it easier to diagnose when we assume that a doctor can spot in a busy twenty minute appointment what a loving parent has not yet noticed. And while I realize that some children are being raised in less than ideal circumstances, it is still the case that most children in America are being raised by their own, married, parents; targeting federal help in the form of mandatory screenings toward those children in other circumstances might be a better approach, in the long run.

But in Obama's America, any such targeting would be taken as an expression that we believe children are better off when they're being raised by two people of opposite genders who are married to each other--and we can't have that, can we? So we have to assume that a child in a crowded foster home and a child whose mother stays at home with him are equally at risk of having their autism remain undiagnosed until elementary school, however unlikely that may be.

Marching On

Thirty-six years and one day ago, the Supreme Court decided that women ought to have the right to kill their unborn children.

Thirty-five years and one day ago, the first annual March for Life in Washington, DC was held to protest that decision.

Since that day, more than fifty million Americans have been killed by abortion. People ranging in age from their mid-thirties down to infants are not with us, and never had the chance to be born.

Most of us know at least one woman who has had an abortion. Some of them regret it and suffer terribly from the memory of that "choice," but others work to encourage more women to have abortions, seeking company in their spiritual misery.

Our President believes in abortion. He thinks it's a woman's right, and that her right to kill her offspring is so powerful that if the child she meant for a doctor to kill slips out of her womb alive, the baby should simply be left to die, so as not to "burden" the woman's original decision to have an abortion. He thinks that encouraging pregnant women to choose life is simply "punishing" them with a baby.

He has planned to overturn the Mexico City policy, which forbids US funding for overseas abortions, tomorrow, in celebration of Roe v. Wade. Spreading America's culture of death to third-world countries is apparently an act of "hope" in this new administration; it's one more example of the phrase I've seen on various pro-life blogs: change we can bereave in.

As the marchers gather in Washington, DC tomorrow, and as those of us who can't be with them physically join in spiritual with prayer, we should all take heart. God, the Author of Life, is the one in charge here; He will answer our prayers, and not abandon us.

He may yet, however, abandon our country, whose faithlessness to His laws is growing day by day. Our nation has never been in such great danger, because our nation has never before committed itself so thoroughly to such a course of evil, and placed at its head a man who has vowed to serve this evil above all else. As those who march for life march on, those who insist on choosing death harden their hearts to the silent screams of the millions of dead children, and expand their evil to include euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and other vile things. The day of reckoning cannot be far off; no nation has ever embraced such unholy ills and escaped the wrath of God.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dressing for the New Camelot

As Inauguration Day, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along, it's nice to see the news media doing some objective reporting on important topics:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michelle Obama, hailed by many (Emphasis added--E.M.) as America's new style icon, officially took her place on the world stage on Tuesday wearing an outfit in the nontraditional color of yellow and set fashionistas atwitter.

The new U.S. first lady, 45, chose a sparkling sheath dress and matching coat in a yellow-gold hue by Cuban-born American designer Isabel Toledo for the presidential swearing-in ceremony. She matched it with a wide diamante necklace.

What she will wear to the formal inaugural ball later on Tuesday remained a tightly held secret. But her choice is expected to provide clues to her future balancing act as glamorous first lady in a time of deep recession.

Michelle Obama, a former lawyer, has been credited with bringing a chic, youthful style to U.S. politics and for mixing comfortable chain store garments from the likes of Gap and J. Crew with edgier new designers like Chicago's Mario Pinto and Narciso Rodriguez.

Initially seen as slightly aloof, she won hearts in June by wearing an affordable $148 black and white off-the-rack dress for an appearance on the popular female TV chat show "The View." It sold out nationwide overnight.

First off, there's that "many" again. Is it the same "many" who expected Barack Obama's words to be chiseled in marble? Do any of the "many" not work for the news media? Inquiring minds want to know.

Second, I'm not sure how "affordable" a $148 dollar dress is these days here in Flyover Country. I'm guessing that the wives of unemployed or soon to be unemployed auto workers would find that price tag a little steep. But then, I'm a frugal clothes shopper, and just bought a three-piece "wardrober" for a little more than one-tenth of that price (okay, with shipping the amount came to just over $22)--so I'm probably not the best judge.

Third--"slightly aloof?" Well, okay, the way that Chris Matthews is "slightly infatuated" with our new Pres. 'Cause, you know, electric thrills up the leg are totally normal for a reporter to experience in the presence of a politician.

Of course, some of us who have been doing the "Kennedy comparisons watch" have already noticed how many of Michelle Obama's outfits have been inspired by a former first lady's gowns and dresses. So let's have a look at some pictures:

Today:

A yellow dress worn by Jackie Kennedy:

And a coat in yellow:

So I'm going to go way out on a limb, here, and predict that Michelle Obama's super-secret Inaugural Ball gown is going to look rather like something Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once wore. Michelle could choose to copy Jackie's Oleg Cassini-designed ivory Inaugural Ball gown, or she could go with Cassini's celadon silk gown that looked rather Grecian, or a copy of a pink Cassini gown, or even something like the Joan Morse dress (all of which are here).

After all, when you're reinventing Camelot, you've already got the costumes in mind.

What Does Doug Kmiec Think of This?

Depressing:
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) -- In less than five minutes after Barack Obama took over as the next president, the White House web site changed from pro-life to pro-abortion. The previous site, which touted the pro-life proclamation President Bush signed late last week, now includes Obama's agenda for women, which calls for promoting abortion.

Gone is any mention of the Sanctity of Human Life Day or the speeches or actions of President Bush's that promoted human life. Now, in the same color scheme and format as the Bush site, there is a celebration of Obama's agenda.

According to a web site search of WhiteHouse.gov, the only page on the official governmental site to mention abortion is a page detailing what Obama will do to promote the interests of women.

Though abortions cause women a myriad of medical and mental health problems, Obama states his clear intent, in a section entitled "reproductive choice," to make abortions even more available.

"President Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women's rights under Roe v. Wade a priority in his Adminstration [sic]," the Obama White House site says.

"He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case," it adds.

The White House page also touts Obama's backing for the Prevention First Act.

Billed as a measure to provide more funding for family planning and contraception, pro-life advocates oppose it because it sends millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion business that does 25 percent of the abortions across the country.

The Obama White House site also promotes the new president's view that Americans should be forced to pay for embryonic stem cell research, which involves the destruction of human life and has never helped a single patient.

All those Catholic quislings who insisted that Obama was the real pro-life candidate, all those self-deluded Christians who thought Obama wasn't going to make abortion much of a priority--I'm telling you, you were wrong. Granted, some would say this was just a normal administrative thing, changing the website--but it's pretty depressing to go in five minutes from an administration which believes in protecting innocent life to an administration that has declared open season on the unborn.

God help us.

An Inaguration Prayer

One thing we can all do today, even disgruntled pro-life conservatives who never have trusted slick Chicago Democrats, is pray for our new leaders. I do struggle a bit with this, as I think of a prayer offered in Fiddler on the Roof ("May the Lord bless and keep the Tsar--far away from us!). But I've come up with something honest to share:

Lord, it has pleased You to chastise our nation by elevating to our highest office men who call what is evil, "good," and work for its success. Watch over Barack Obama and Joe Biden closely, dear Lord; for the sake of their souls give them the gift of failure whenever they attempt to increase the evils of abortion, ESCR, euthanasia, or the many other sins against the sanctity and dignity of human life which they embrace without hesitation. Thwart them, Lord, when they work to expand and promote these evils; haunt their souls with Your Voice, calling them to repentance and grace. Preserve them from the evils of ambition and deadly pride; grant them many opportunities to grow in humility and to become aware that You are the one Who is really in charge, not only of our nation, but of all nations.

Almightly God, remove from America the sin of abortion. Call her away from this terrible moral darkness and open her eyes to the pit of evil upon which she stands poised. Let America turn away from this sin, before Your wrath demands her destruction.

Amen.

You Can't be Catholic and Pro-Choice, Mr. Vice President

On this inauguration day, it's easy to forget about the gaffe that keeps on giving--or, in other words, that Joe Biden is now America's Catholic Pro-Abortion Vice President.

Sigh.

Although trendy Northeastern Catholics are used to applauding Biden's occasional acts of (objective) sacrilege (hat tip: Curt Jester), this sort of thing doesn't play so well in Peoria (or Denver, or...well, anywhere where bishops have spines). Now that Biden is the Vice President of the United States of America, it's going to be rather important for the United States Bishops to decide once and for all if politicians who promote, vote for, support, and otherwise encourage abortion ought to be held accountable under Canon 915's discipline or not. As Archbishop Burke wrote in the document linked to above, this is not at all about imposting a canonical penalty:

During the election campaign of 2004 in the United States of America, some Bishops found themselves under question by other Bishops regarding the application of can. 915 of the Code of Canon Law in the case of Catholic politicians who publicly, after admonition, continue to support legislation favoring procured abortion and other legislation contrary to the natural moral law, for example, legislation permitting the cloning of human life for the purpose of harvesting stem cells by the destruction of the artificially-generated human embryo, and legislation redefining marriage to include a relationship between persons of the same sex. The gravity of the sin of procured abortion and of the sins involved in the commission of other intrinsically-evil acts seemed to place the Catholic politicians among those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin, about whom can. 915 treats.

The discussion among the Bishops uncovered a fair amount of serious confusion regarding the discipline of can. 915. First of all, the denial of Holy Communion was repeatedly characterized as the imposition of a canonical penalty, when, in reality, it plainly articulates the responsibility of the minister of Holy Communion, ordinary or extraordinary, to deny Holy Communion to those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin [1]. The denial of Holy Communion can be the effect of the imposition or declaration of the canonical penalties of Excommunication and Interdict (cf. cann. 1331 §1, 2º; and 1332), but there are other cases in which Holy Communion must be denied, apart from any imposition or declaration of a canonical penalty, in order to respect the holiness of the Sacrament, to safeguard the salvation of the soul of the party presenting himself to receive Holy Communion, and to avoid scandal.

Joe Biden supports both abortion and embryonic stem cell research--while claiming that he accepts the Church's view that life begins at conception! This is a truly monstrous view to hold, to believe that the embryo is indeed a human life, but to vote in favor of killing him or her through abortion or through ESCR. If there was ever a case for a quasi-public admonishment followed by informing the new Vice President that he must not present himself for Holy Communion, this is it--the only excuse possible for Biden is that he really doesn't understand the moral implications of saying, in effect, "Yes, I agree with the Church that life begins at conception, but I think people should be able to kill those human beings anyway."

Of course, in effect, every single person who calls himself or herself a "pro-choice Catholic" is saying the exact same monstrously evil thing. It is not possible to be both Catholic and "pro-choice;" a Catholic believes that human life begins at conception, while a "pro-choice" person believes that those human lives are valueless and that it should be legal to kill those unborn people.

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church in America has failed to make this clear. Few priests give homilies about the terrible evil that abortion is, or remind their flocks that any participation in abortion at all is a sin of utmost gravity that puts the soul of the participant at risk of eternal hellfire; and while some courageous bishops have taken strong stances against abortion, and been visible in their leadership, others have wrapped the abortion issue up in the so-called "seamless garment" philosophy and have thereby created the impression that opposition to abortion is the moral equivalent of opposing poverty, the death penalty, or supporting immigration--and that there's plenty of room for nuance, for those who'd rather vote for Democrats and don't really mind funding abortions.

This deplorable situation, this weakness of catechesis and failure to emphasize one of the greatest moral evils a civilization has ever embraced, has been brewing for a long time. And sadly, some in the Church in America helped to create this reality.

But now we have someone at the highest level of the executive branch who embodies all this confusion and weak teaching. And every time the Vice President receives Holy Communion at Mass, he will be giving scandal, and creating the impression that the rich and powerful aren't held to the same moral requirements that ordinary Catholics are bound under pain of sin to follow.

It's time for the bishops of America to insist that you can't be Catholic and call yourself "pro-choice," that you can't be Catholic and support abortion, that you can't be Catholic and vote in favor of abortion and ESCR, that you can't be Catholic and embrace the culture of death. Because you can't, to put it bluntly; you can only be a heretic if you hold any of these ideas.

So-called "pro-choice" Catholics do have a choice--they can choose to remain practicing Catholics in good standing with the Church, or they can choose to keep supporting the murder of the innocent. But they can't do both; they're putting their immortal souls in danger every time they approach the altar, covered as they are in the blood of the unborn victims of abortion and ESCR. It is not kindness or charity to fail to remind them of this fact; it is indifference to their eternal fate, an indifference no Catholic ought to have for his fellow men.

Not In Our Stars

Many Catholic homeschooling mommy bloggers have indicated that they were planning to spend today doing a study of the presidential inauguration. Some, of course, support Barack Obama and are thrilled by today's events; others are not at all happy, but still see today as an important civic event that only happens once every four or eight (usually eight) years.

I respect the latter, and don't understand the former at all. But at our house, we didn't even have the TV on this morning; it's a school day, after all.

Besides, while I understand that some see presidential inaugurations as a bit of history, a civic ritual worth watching and discussing, I no longer see them that way myself (if I ever really did). This is because whatever importance inaugurations once had, they have been, since January 22, 1973, nothing more than a polite lie told to the dying Republic (often while the person engaging in this behavior is grasping a Bible, no less).

Consider the words of the oath of office: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." There was a time when those words meant something more or less concrete: the President-elect was declaring that he would perform those tasks delegated by the Constitution to the President, and that he would otherwise support the Constitution's vision of limited federal government and abide by the notion that the unfettered liberty of the people of the United States was the most important value, the thing most worthy of protection, the thing that the central, federal government should most hesitate to violate, and most strive to preserve.

I'm sure it's possible to point at history and see other Presidents, before this modern era, who were being less than perfectly truthful when they pronounced the words of that oath. FDR, for instance, wanted to pack the Supreme Court with three extra judges to help him push through some of his agenda items, some of which the Court was inclined to look askance upon, and refer to the Constitutional limits of the federal government's powers in their negative decisions. But after January 22, 1973, the whole meaning of the notion expressed in the words "...preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution..." changed so dramatically that our government has never been the same since that day.

Prior to that day, in order to change the Constitution in any significant way, the constitutional amendment process had to be followed. While Constitutional amendments have, of course, been added to the Constitution, they are relatively rare, and their adoption has been a slow and laborious thing. And this is good: we have been spared the lunacy of an Equal Rights Amendment because of this process, and earlier our nation was able to undo the lunacy of Prohibition without incurring any Constitutional damage.

But on January 22, 1973, liberal activist judges realized that they could deform the Constitution merely by claiming that new rights nobody had ever seen before were emanating from penumbras, an argument that, so closely following the drug-crazed late Sixties, probably made more sense than it does now. With one stroke of a judicial pen the Supreme Court rewrote the Constitution to declare war on unborn Americans, and the death toll today stands at around fifty million so far--and counting. (Four thousand American children will die today; 1400 of them will be African-American children, who will never share in the dream of equality proposed by Martin Luther King, Jr., which we celebrated only yesterday.)

And so, since that historic date, no President has really sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution; they have only sworn to maintain the status quo, to continue to let activist judges emasculate the Constitution any time they feel like reshaping societal values, and to conspire with these same judges in order to advance their own agendas and increase their own power. Taking a cue from these judicial masters, recent Presidents have also discovered that by using such things as executive orders and signing statements, they, too, can move beyond merely enforcing the laws and actually create law, just as the judges moved beyond the interpretation of law into the making of law.

The Constitution, which each President swears to defend, forbids anybody but Congress from making the laws that govern our nation. There's this idea of checks and balances, this notion that while a President may certainly propose legislation (as can any citizen), it's not his job to make laws; there's a corresponding notion that the courts can't make laws either, or amend the Constitution by judicial fiat. But for the last several administrations these notions have been ignored as being inconvenient to modern governance; all three branches have found a way to create laws with which to burden the liberty of the people, and all three are in cahoots with each other to keep it that way.

You might think that Congress would oppose this usurpation of its power, but you would be wrong. This is easy to understand--making laws requires taking actual postions on issues that one's constituents might care about, and this creates political risk. Today's members of Congress see their top priority as the avoidance of political risk and their continued election to office; some are content to stay in Congress and get moved up to positions of greater prestige and more committee power, while others, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are only using Congress as a stepping-stone to the executive branch, which has more opportunity to satisfy pride and ambition, greater power, and much greater visibility (though not transparency; we can't ask that of our leaders, naturally).

So the inauguration ceremony ends up meaning very little, when all is said and done. A man elected by a majority of the people makes a mendacious promise to protect and defend something that no one in government respects, protects, defends, or even follows anymore; then there's a big party which includes a ball, a traffic nightmare, not nearly enough public toilets, and far too many Hollywood celebrities.

Our freedom-loving ancestors who sacrificed a great deal fighting for this nation's independence would find us puzzling, in that we've allowed these modern dictators to redefine the Constitution at will; the anti-Federalists among them would be especially appalled that the safeguards they insisted upon to keep the central, federal government from becoming a Leviathan bent on swallowing whole the liberty and independence of the lives of all Americans have been so lightly brushed aside, traded for immoral sexual activity, the hideous crime and sin of abortion, and a new American philosophy that sees restraint as a vice and immoderate spending as a virtue. They might wonder under what evil constellation such an unholy alliance of power was birthed, that tore down the system of checks and balance, and set our nation on the same road once followed by ancient Rome, who traded her liberty for the ease and prestige of having a king.

Shakespeare would have the answer: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings." This power grab couldn't have happened without generations of silent acquiescence, without people willing to send the same greedy glad-handers back to Congress again and again, without the notion that it's perfectly fine to "Bork" any judicial candidate who doesn't swear more allegiance to abortion than he does to the Constitution, without a mouth-frothing media bent on reinforcing the notion that a messianic dictatorship would be good for America (so long as the messiah shares their immoral and hedonistic values), and without slowly-softening spines accustomed to luxury and ease, and ready to trade freedom for either one.

And looking at the throngs of worshipers waving laurel-branches at our newest Caesar, I can't help but think that Americans have started to enjoy being underlings--and may eventually surrender all liberty in exchange for the comfortable servitude which is all that underlings may ever aspire to have.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eightmaps None the Richer

One of the things I wanted to talk about last week was Rod Dreher's discussion of the Eightmaps issue. Rod wrote several posts about it, but I've linked to the first; the others can be found by going to the main Crunchy Cons page and clicking on "Read More." There's also this, from the Dallas Morning News blog:

We went round and round this morning in the editorial board meeting about a particular issue, and didn't come to a resolution. We're going to talk about it again next week. In the meantime, I'd like to solicit opinion from our readers.

At issue is Eightmaps.com, a website put up by opponents of Prop 8, the California ballot initiative that overturned the state supreme court's legalization of gay marriage. The site's owners -- who, tellingly, are anonymous -- have taken publicly available information about people who gave to the Prop 8 campaign, and combined it with Google maps. Result: an electronic map to the homes of everyone who gave money to the campaign to overturn gay marriage.

I think this is a terrible development, and here's why. Given that there has been harrassment by gay radicals of people who supported Prop 8, it is potentially dangerous that it's now easy to find your way to the homes of these donors -- even small donors. Think of it this way: what if a radical fundamentalist group gathered the names and home addresses of donors to pro-gay causes, and created an online map to their homes? Or what if anti-abortion radicals created a map to the homes of Planned Parenthood donors? Is that really the way we want to go in this society? I think not.

My view is that whatever your cause, to use publicly available information in this way will have a chilling effect on the willingness of ordinary people to participate in the political process. At the moment, I don't believe that donors should be kept anonymous, but you watch: the first time someone gets hurt in their home, whether its over Prop 8 or some other controversial political issue involving geotagging and private addresses, there's going to be a move to privatize donor lists. And I'm not at all sure I'd be against that.

I think Rod's right, here. If the practice of publicizing how people contribute money to or participate in various political causes becomes a popular one, won't that ultimately have the effect of making some people--perhaps many people--simply decide not to contribute or participate?

What if, for instance, someone sent your city government employer a picture of you participating at a local pro-life march held this week. What if this caused your employer to fire you on the grounds that you believe in "harassing" women for "exercising their right to choose." Would you have any legal recourse? In all likelihood it would depend on the employment laws of your state.

Now imagine that prospective employers can simply type in your home address on a few websites of the "Eightmaps" variety to find out if you contribute to political causes your employer doesn't approve of, such as pro-life causes, anti-gay marriage causes, or other things of that nature. You might be turned down for job after job without ever learning that some cause you've contributed to makes you "unemployable" in today's rather liberal corporate social environment.

Many of those who participate in the comment boxes at Crunchy Cons didn't see any sort of problem with Eightmaps, though. Some thought all political activity on the part of private citizens should be available for review by anyone interested in such research; others, somewhat predictably, thought that haters and bigots who wanted to deprive gay couples of matrimony were fair game to be held up to shame on public websites, and insisted that gays have been dealing with exactly this same sort of harassment for so long now that it's only fair for heterosexuals to experience it (though nobody has, as of yet, created a map tool for finding out where those who give heavily to pro-gay marriage causes live; I imagine there will be some outrage if/when that happens).

I can't help but think that one's political donations, like one's vote, ought to be kept quiet--except for direct contributions to candidates. Supporting an issue or a cause shouldn't be enough to get your name on the map, so to speak--especially when the map is a tool of intimidation created by one's opponents. Things like Eightmaps do not enrich political discourse; if anything, we're all a little poorer when bullying tactics enter the political sphere.