Memorial Day, 2015


Can't put it better than Archbishop Chaput:
On this Memorial Day, let’s take time to pause in grateful prayer and remembrance for the men and women of our armed forces who have paid for our freedoms with their lives. Let’ also remember those who have had to bear and still bear great sorrow at the loss of a loved one who served our country. May the Lord give you peace.
Here's a nice piece about military chaplains.

Mansfield On Why You Should Read the Whole Speech

Love this piece by Harvey Mansfield in this morning's WSJ: Give Michelle Obama A Break. If you read a speech through instead of relying on a sound bite clipped out of context, you might be surprised at what you find.

Yes, it's true that the First Lady went through a litany of past and present slights against black citizens. But if you read her speech, she really did not do it in the spirit of "hate whitey," nor did she claim that most whites are racists. She was simply frank with the kids that occasionally they'll have it harder or feel slighted because of their race -- and that is no excuse for anything

She's a progressive liberal, so of course not everything she says resonates with me, but its overall message is positive and wholesome: 

Our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win.  It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together -- then we can build ourselves and our communities up.  We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together -- together -- we can overcome anything that stands in our way.And the first thing we have to do is vote.  (Applause.)    Hey, no, not just once in a while.  Not just when my husband or somebody you like is on the ballot.  But in every election at every level, all of the time.  (Applause.)  Because here is the truth -- if you want to have a say in your community, if you truly want the power to control your own destiny, then you’ve got to be involved.  You got to be at the table.  You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote.  That’s it; that's the way we move forward. That’s how we make progress for ourselves and for our country.   That’s what’s always happened here at Tuskegee.  Think about those students who made bricks with their bare hands.  They did it so that others could follow them and learn on this campus, too.  Think about that brilliant scientist who made his lab from a trash pile.  He did it because he ultimately wanted to help sharecroppers feed their families.  Those Airmen who rose above brutal discrimination -- they did it so the whole world could see just how high black folks could soar.  That’s the spirit we’ve got to summon to take on the challenges we face today.And you don’t have to be President of the United States to start addressing things like poverty, and education, and lack of opportunity.  Graduates, today -- today, you can mentor a young person and make sure he or she takes the right path.  Today, you can volunteer at an after-school program or food pantry.  Today, you can help your younger cousin fill out her college financial aid form so that she could be sitting in those chairs one day.  (Applause.)  But just like all those folks who came before us, you’ve got to do something to lay the groundwork for future generations.That pilot I mentioned earlier -- Charles DeBow -- he didn’t rest on his laurels after making history.  Instead, after he left the Army, he finished his education.  He became a high school English teacher and a college lecturer.  He kept lifting other folks up through education.  He kept fulfilling his “double duty” long after he hung up his uniform. And, graduates, that’s what we need from all of you.  We need you to channel the magic of Tuskegee toward the challenges of today.  And here’s what I really want you to know -- you have got everything you need to do this.  You’ve got it in you. Because even if you’re nervous or unsure about what path to take in the years ahead, I want you to realize that you’ve got everything you need right now to succeed.  You’ve got it. 
In her own way, she's telling them to be citizens. 

Love Lifted Me

Ascension of Christ from the Laudario of Sant’Agnese, Pacino di Bonaguida.
Shamelessly pinched from here.

Happy Feast Day! For your edification and enjoyment, here is Msgr. Charles Pope's homily for the occasion.

But, you may say, He is in glory while I am still here. How is it that I am ascended or ascending? Consider a humorous example using our physical bodies. When I get on an elevator and punch the button for the top floor, the top of my head gets there before the soles of my feet. But the whole body will get there unless some strange loss of integrity or tragic dismemberment takes place. In an analogous way, so it is with Jesus’ mystical body. In Christ, our Head, we are already in glory. Some members of His Body have already gotten there. We who come later will get there too, provided we remain members of His Body. Yes we are already ascended in Christ, our Head. We are already enthroned in glory with Him, if we hold fast and stay a member of his Body. This is the fellowship of the Ascension. 
It's not the feast of the Ascension in Rome, where Thursday is still Thursday, but there was a great occasion nonetheless, as the Holy Father canonized four holy women, including two nuns from Syria (the press is calling them "Palestinian," but as they lived under the Ottoman empire, that seems anachronistic to me).  

Like State, Like Foundation

Shamelessly pinched from here.

I would like to see a fact-checking breakdown of these numbers, and given the Koch brothers' support for gay marriage, I won't be impressed until I see what charities they're giving to. But assuming in both instances that the causes they're giving to are actually worthy and the numbers are in the ball-park, what jumps out at me is not what the creator wants me to see (Clinton corruption) but that the liberal foundation is managed approximately the way liberals manage states. 

Fight Back Against the Regulatory State

Some days it seems to me Charles Murray is the last American. Not literally, obviously. There are plenty of scholars of the Founders and the Founding and people with wholesome notions about liberty whose work I respect and who are doing good things in politics and academia. What I mean is that Murray seems to have a genuinely American temperament: friendly good will, common sense and spunk. I'm sure it's not true, but I sometimes get the sense that everyone with any fight left in him is mean-spirited and arrogant and therefore unable to build a coalition (looking at you, Ted Cruz) and that everyone who's capable of listening with an eye to understanding others is inclined to be utterly supine before Stalinist tactics and manifest encroachments on our liberties (looking at you, Mike Pence and Bishop Paul Bootkoski).

Yes, the FDA has a SWAT team. Shrug. Whatcha gonna do?

Murray, however, has a big idea about what we might do. It's been called "Conservative civil disobedience" and he has a new book on the subject and a great summary of the project in this morning's WSJ.

I appreciate the way he sets the stage for why his idea is necessary.

America is no longer the land of the free. We are still free in the sense that Norwegians, Germans and Italians are free. But that’s not what Americans used to mean by freedom.
It was our boast that in America, unlike in any other country, you could live your life as you saw fit as long as you accorded the same liberty to everyone else. The “sum of good government,” as Thomas Jefferson put it in his first inaugural address, was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.” Americans were to live under a presumption of freedom.
The federal government remained remarkably true to that ideal—for white male Americans, at any rate—for the first 150 years of our history. Then, with FDR’s New Deal and the rise of the modern regulatory state, our founding principle was subordinated to other priorities and agendas. What made America unique first blurred, then faded, and today is almost gone.
We now live under a presumption of constraint. Put aside all the ways in which city and state governments require us to march to their drummers and consider just the federal government. The number of federal crimes you could commit as of 2007 (the last year they were tallied) was about 4,450, a 50% increase since just 1980. A comparative handful of those crimes are “malum in se”—bad in themselves. The rest are “malum prohibitum”—crimes because the government disapproves.
The laws setting out these crimes are often so complicated that only lawyers, working in teams, know everything that the law requires. Everyone knows how to obey the laws against robbery. No individual can know how to “obey” laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley (810 pages), the Affordable Care Act (1,024 pages) or Dodd-Frank (2,300 pages). We submit to them.
He wants a mass movement to simply disregard obviously arbitrary regulations (he has ideas about how to reach consensus within each sector about what those are and not encourage mere lawlessness), and something like akin to a private sector Legal Services Corporation to defend people and institutions that run afoul of unfair targeting. Make it painful for regulators to do dumb stuff like send cops out after kiddie lemonade stands or sue corporations over regulatory infractions that harmed absolutely no one.
Read the whole thing.  I don't know what will come of this idea, but the very way he lays it out is immensely heartening. 

Seven Quick Takes: Weekend In NY Edition


A week or so ago I had some talks to give a little North of Manhattan, so I took Eldest Weed with me to galavant in the city with my Spies in New York, and I joined them towards the end of the weekend.  Observations, small and large.

1. Wouldn't be surprised if Eldest Weed is a New Yorker eventually. The city makes him come alive somehow. There's a sigh of satisfaction I sigh when we're in the mountains, utterly away from concrete. I heard him sigh the exact same sigh as we came out of the Battery tunnel and the Freedom Tower loomed enormous right on top of us. 

2. Don't say there are no modest men left in Manhattan. 

3. There were wonderful people in the parish where I spoke, but none the folks I spoke with during the course of an all-day workshop was married. Everyone was divorced, or in various stages of annulment. I am not saying they weren't serious Catholics or that this was a "Catholic lite" parish. It wasn't. It's a dynamic parish with a wonderful pastor, the kind of place that gives you hope. Many of the people I worked with were the kind of Christian I absolutely adore: people who have been made modest, calm and kind through suffering or failure of some kind. They understand their need for grace, their faith is true and deep, and they know how to uphold standards without being jerks about it.  Some of the folks there began to take their faith seriously precisely because their marriages failed. I am not picking on them, I'm simply observing that the disappearance of marriage is already a reality in the NE --it's not some future horrible.  Not sure what to say about this yet, I'm just thinking about it. How does one hold marriage out as a blessing and a good if no one has ever *seen* one and no one can imagine a different reality? And if the Christian community itself is not all that interested in the question, because its members are trying to be holy on a different vocational path?

How are pastors supposed to preach about marriage when even good Christians are inclined to hear their words as a rebuke and feel "left out," as if the Church views them as damaged goods?

4. The Saturday evening I drove down from my workshop to join my party in the city, I had the best driving experience in NY ever. Gorgeous day for a drive. When I departed FDR drive and turned right into the city proper, it wasn't crowded and I somehow hit the timing right such that every traffic light turned green for me as I headed South. Then I turned right onto My Spy in New York's street, and turned right into a car pulling out of a parking space where I could slip right in, a mere two blocks from her place. This was how I knew God must have been pleased with my workshop.

5. Eldest Weed & I went to Mass at St. Patrick's since he'd never been there. Alas, it's being renovated and the interior is mostly under scaffolding. He still thought it was beautiful. Cardinal Dolan was there. We saw him up close prior to the procession. Members of the NYFD were there for a blessing. The Cardinal told them their visit is one of his favorite Sundays of the year because they're the only ones who don't cough in the presence of incense. But he said the MC doesn't like it when they come because they blow out all the candles. "We can't have that, fellas." After Mass he said he understood they were having a special breakfast. "Will you have bacon? Will there be donuts? Bloody Marys?  I'm coming over!" It was charming. He gave a workmanlike homily for Good Shepherd Sunday, too, but I confess I was tired and didn't much take it in.

6. Yay Pimsleur language tapes! On the subway on the way home from Mass I overheard two gals speaking in French -- and I understood every word they said. Since I now have a hellish commute, I've been trying to pick up French via CD. I'm illiterate and probably can't conjugate any verbs, but conversationally I'm up through French II and can swallow my "r"s tolerably well -- or at any rate much better than when I first started and thought I'd never get that sound.  I am absurdly proud of myself for understanding, "Would you like to come for dinner tonight?"  "No, sorry, that's just when he arrives with his wife. Maybe tomorrow at our place?"  "Great, as long as it's in the afternoon. I'll bring the wine."

7. I let my teenage son drive me most of the way to New York. Let no one ever despise my courage. Or his.

Head over to This Ain't The Lyceum for more quick takes.

Update: I forgot to mention: there was a coyote at my Spy in Battery Park's front door Saturday morning. By which I mean an actual coyote, not a human trafficker. How does a coyote make it to the southern tip of Manhattan do you suppose?

Parenting Level: Florida

I don't know when "everyone in Florida is crazy" became a thing, but all of a sudden there are a spate of stories on a regular basis in which people in Florida do bizarre things. Such as this couple, who used drugs to bribe their kids to clean their rooms.

Alas, the reporter does not think to ask the one truly relevant question: did it work?

Essure Don't Care About Women

The FDA fast-tracked a contraceptive device called "Essure." Predictably, it doesn't actually seem to be safe. Possibly because it works like this:
The device is a small metal and polyester coil placed into a woman’s fallopian tubes in order to make her permanently sterile. 
We all understand the fallopian tubes are delicate, right? Gee, who could have foreseen these problems? 
Since then, the agency has received more than 4,000 reports of serious complications related to the device, including severe back and pelvic pain, heavy prolonged menstrual periods, and coils that pierced the fallopian tubes and lodged  in other organs.
Actually, there was no need to foresee these difficulties, since they emerged in the clinical trials. 

In a safety trial that enrolled 269 women ages 23 to 45, the device was successfully inserted into 200 patients. In nine of them, a coil perforated the fallopian tube, was expelled or lodged elsewhere in the body, according to a 2003 report in the journal Human Reproduction.
Trial participants were asked to keep diaries, and nearly one in 10 participants recorded painful intercourse, while one in eight had painful menstrual periods during the first three months.In a subsequent trial of 518 women, only 449  were able to rely on the device. On 21 occasions, the implant perforated the fallopian tubes, was expelled, or ended up in the wrong place in the body. At least eight women had surgery to be sterilized or to remove a misplaced coil.

Participants again reported back pain, abdominal pain and pain with intercourse.

A citizens' petition to the FDA to w/draw the device has more than 16,000 complainants. There's a FB with 17,000 members. 

The National Center for Health Research, a nonprofit group, has begun analyzing adverse event reports related to Essure, looking for patterns of complications.
“The fact that 16,000 women with children and a lot of things to do are willing to take the time to talk about this is very, very unusual,” said Diana Zuckerman, president of the group, referring to Mrs. Firmalino’s Facebook page. “I can’t think of another device like this.”
A study on the long term effects of the device was just published last week... and 30% of the trial participants are missing in the data. 

Dr. Aileen Gariepy, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine, has calculated that nearly one in 10 women with Essure would get pregnant over a 10-year period, a much higher rate than that among women who undergo tubal ligation.
She finds it troubling that the long-term study published last week did not include data on 30 percent of the trial participants.
In clinical trials, she said, “the most common reason patients are lost like this is because they had a problem.”
Not to worry, my pretties. 
F.D.A. officials said they were concerned about the coils moving outside the fallopian tubes, but did not believe the device was flawed.
“The agency believes the benefits outweigh the risks in appropriately selected patients who are adequately informed,” said Dr. William Maisel, deputy director for science and chief scientist in the F.D.A.’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
Not to pull the feminist card, but does anyone believe that a comparable device to sterilize men would last for one week after the second man reported severe pelvic pain, flu-like symptoms, and a migration of the device from his vas deferens to other internal organs? 

But who the hell cares? It's only women. 

Aged by Ultron

I confess I could not much distinguish the latest Avengers sequel from the kajillion trailers for other Marvel attractions that preceded it.  As a feel-good experience it failed for me, because what mostly struck me was how old Tom Cruise and George Clooney look in their respective forthcoming flicks, and I never really got over that. Plus, I recognized, but could not place, the voice of the villain, and that was a major distraction for me through the whole film. (Figured it out, but won't give it away.)

I'm not sure enough punches were thrown. The Avengers (does this really count as a spoiler?) fight bad guys and then each other and then hordes and hordes of more bad guys, such that there are virtually no punch-free frames. And still, I walked out of the theater thinking I was maybe 10-15 punches shy of getting my money's worth.

More seriously, it's okay for what it is. I find the franchise wears. I still basically like the characters and I appreciate the patriotism and overall wholesomeness (though a couple of swear words and sexual innuendos creep into this one, parents of little ones), but there is still nothing at stake, as a commenter said of a previous installment:
Nothing is really at stake. None of the heroes can die, so they are not really risking anything. I understand they’re all theoretically mortal, but within the movie’s context they’re indestructible and therefore, in the end, boring. (Though the movie was fun while it lasted.)”
This is the most quasi-religious of the installments, w/ a cameo appearance from Pope Francis and

an Arvo Pärt "Kyrie" in the background of the climactic scene. I will let Eldest Weed say more about that below. 

In the time-honored tradition, here's what the kids had to say. 
Youngest Weed, 11: It was fun, but there's not much plot. 
Middle Weed, 14. I give it a B+. I really liked it. 
Girl Weed, 16: If you're asking me about the script and the story line? Low B. But I really enjoyed it nonetheless. Except for their (spoiler alert!) killing off my favorite character.  
Eldest Weed, 18: Didn't say whether he liked it, actually, but observed that it's an anti-Progressive movie.
It is hard to explain why he says this without giving away the plot, but I agree with him. Suffice it to say that the Progressive version of Science does not fare well here, and there is a quasi-religious battle between the villain, who consciously blasphemes about the rock on which his evolved church will be built and hopes to bring peace to the world by ending man; and another character who takes on human form and defends life. There is also an interesting scene in which we learn that one of the dehumanizing things the Soviets did to Black Widow was render her sterile, an action she regards as tragic and deeply disfiguring. These themes are sort of interesting to see in Hollywood, but it would be overstating things to suggest they're given any truly coherent treatment -- it's just a fun Avengers movie, with heavy emphasis on punching, not philosophy. 
(Joss Whedon perhaps also tips his hand as a racist, since the word "thug" plays a large role early on in the movie. In case you missed the latest PC story, I'm not serious. I'm making fun of recent efforts to claim that "thug" refers only to black people -- I think the movie gives the lie to that claim). 
Anyway, our verdict: fun, but there is diminishing return on investment in this franchise.  Well, 5 of 6 of us say that. Mr. W. says it managed to be both deafening (soundtrack) and un-hearable (dialogue) and was a two-dimensional waste of time. But he would have liked it with a Wagner soundtrack, I promise. 

Update: sorry for the wonky font changes and inexplicable hard returns. It's google's fault.