Abortion, Ritual Sacrifice, and… “Conservatism”?

It almost seems like abortion is a dead issue (no pun intended). When hold-nothing-back mouthpieces of the Twitter generation like Tomi Lahren (of whom I lately wrote) can’t grasp the basic facts as they float one garish utterance after another like helium-filled balloons at a birthday party, discussion no longer appears to have much point. And Tomi, recall, is supposed to represent “conservatism”.

Her position, stated infamously (if very casually) on national television, is essentially, “Hands off my guns, and hands off my body.” In other words, the government’s intruding into a woman’s pregnancy is equivalent to its confiscating the weapon with which she would have deterred a rapist climbing through her window at midnight.

May I offer the following analogy in dissent? Say that you contract to be the lifeguard on a stretch of ocean beach during the summer. You demonstrate superior swimming ability and are offered the job on the spot. Great. Now the summer proceeds to unfold without incident, and you fall into the habit of munching potato chips and swilling softdrinks rather than leaving your shaded throne to swim around the pier once in a while. You grow fat and are easily winded. But so what? It’s your body, isn’t it? Don’t you have a right to abuse it if you so choose?

Well, no, not really. Not in this case. The terms of your employment assume that you will remain performance-ready; and if you fall out of shape, furthermore, another may die. The swimming novice who screams and flails beyond the pier in late August will drown because you can’t reach him, thanks to your consuming interest in supplying pleasure to your taste buds. You were supposed to be that person’s lifeline, the door to another day for someone who can’t survive without help. You should not have accepted your post if you intended to ignore its responsibilities.

Unless a woman is raped (against which outrage a gun is a pretty good insurance policy, as Tomi says), she should be able to partake liberally of the joys of sex—if such is her inclination—while preserving a few abstinent days in the middle of her monthly cycle. Or if that’s just barbarically severe, then she can always equip herself with contraception (or purchase one of the wide variety of contemporary toys that promise to keep her happy). If she chooses to handle her body in such a way that she risks conceiving another life, then she needs to be prepared to supply the lifeline: those are the “terms of engagement”.

Frankly, I don’t see why any educated woman should find herself in an unwanted pregnancy unless she wants the drama of it—unless, that is, she wants to perform the sanguinary rite of passage into a sick sisterhood that is represented by abortion. Today’s cutting-edge feminists say they don’t need or even like men, anyway: they tend to prefer each other. So why does this remain such a hot topic with them, unless they require a blood sacrifice to cut their ties with human decency the way a gang initiation requires a drive-by murder?

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Cutting Cards to Determine the Start of World War III: A Good Idea?

As determined as I am not to use this space to talk politics, I’ve been asked repeatedly over the past 48 hours about the missile strike on the Syrian airbase… and, frankly, with a son who’s just turned twenty-two and memories of our nation’s Vietnam days still prominent, I’m thinking a lot about asinine military moves and their consequences.

Actually, nothing I want to say is really political. I leave that to others. Trump-apologists are spinning away at their media looms, while Trump-haters are studying with equal ingenuity how to represent the strike as a disaster. (The ingenuity is required because most of them, as a matter of record, have long wanted Assad removed.) For myself, I’m content to make a few observations.

I’ve never been a fan of “putting Putin in his place”. This line of reasoning seems childish to me almost beyond belief. We’re not talking about Wrestlemania here. Putin is no choirboy, but we should be courting him away from an alliance with the Chinese. His cardinal sin of “invading” Ukraine followed upon a violent and illegal coup staged by pro-European West Ukranians–and he was actually invited into East Ukraine by a regional majority whose petitioning for basic concessions from the new government (e.g., being able to teach their children in their own language) was arrogantly ignored. Virtually all of the people who are now screeching, Putin est delendus, were warning after the Crimean plebiscite (and it was a legal plebiscite, by the way) that Putin would forthwith move in on Poland, Finland, and so on. Didn’t happen. Why is anyone still listening to them?

I’d be happy to put Bashar al-Assad on my “drop dead” list… somewhere well below Kim Jong Un. The Hannity brigade is trying to represent the elimination of the former as somehow leading to that of the latter. Wish I could understand how that works… hope it does. I guess the Chinese are supposed to be so unnerved at the sight of this drunken U.S. cowboy wandering the streets with sticks of dynamite that they hustle their own drunken punk, Kim the Kid, back into the stable with his Derringer. That, too, doesn’t strike me as a very adult way to address problems which could erupt into World War III.

With whom will Assad be replaced? With another Morsi, democratically elected by the local equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood? Are we really eager to firm up an alliance with the House of Saud and Erdogan–doesn’t this suggest that our definition of “intolerably repressive dictatorship” is rather too well lubricated?

Trump claims that seeing video of poisoned children altered his resolve to hold aloof. Does anyone remember Madeline Albright’s making almost identical remarks about seeing photos of mass graves in Bosnia before our involvement there? Turned out that those photos were faked. Are we so sure that we have all the facts in the present case?

And if the murder of children is the “red line”, then haven’t Bush and (especially) Obama killed enough children in drone strikes–at least a thousand by some estimates–to qualify as an atrocity? Or is being shredded by shrapnel below “red line” threshold because death by sarin gas is so much more agonizing?

My inclination is to call crap on all this. I do hope it ends well, since the first dominoes have already toppled… but I really, really don’t like the sense of being manipulated and fed loads of garbage. There’s enough of that coming from leftwing media without the further contributions of neo-con Machiavellians. B.S. is as toxic to aging civilizations as sarin is to children.

Baseball: A Tidy Morality Tale of Degradation Through Technology

Baseball season officially begins tomorrow. I love baseball… but not as I used to. Or, rather, I still love the game, but I don’t much care for the way professionals play it now. It used to be so much more tailored to the pastoral motions of a country lad swinging a scythe or an axe, with all the body’s members working in concert and clever hands getting every last bit of possible acceleration out of a handle. Now it belongs to big, muscular men who hurl their equipment around like barbells in the weight room and are carefully insulated from flying debris by special gloves, special pads, special flaps and guards. The finesse is gone. The higher skills are gone. Even the fielders’ mitts are virtual butterfly nets. The whole dance has grown comparatively predictable and boring.

The late Ralph Kiner was the only commentator I ever noticed awarding proper credit to the altered bat for the game’s degeneration. Bats were once a yard long, with little tapering. Hitters (or “strikers”, as the nineteenth century knew them) used their sticks to balance as a tightrope walker does before they actually carried a saber-like swipe straight into the pitch, smacking it with spread hands whose fingers were as cunningly positioned along the handle as a flautist’s on his melodious instrument. Even when I was a boy, Mantle and Mays still had very level strokes and could make split-second adjustments with their feet and hands.

Wooden bats were always cracking and shattering, though—and replacing them cost money. High schools and colleges were only too happy to shift to aluminum models in the Seventies that could be used all year long and were hence much kinder to the budget. As the metal alloys employed were refined, the new-age bat was reshaped to proportions that wood couldn’t possibly have imitated (though big league models would come ever so close by the Nineties). Barrels grew massive and handles toothpick-thin. Length also diminished to allow yet more mass to be packed into the barrel. In turn, this meant that loss in the acceleration of the longer bat’s sweet spot had to be supplemented by placing the hands all the way down on the knob—and also (as soon became apparent) by recruiting taller boys with longer arms. Tall boys seldom have quick, clever feet. Fortunately, fine footwork wasn’t required for the evolving swing: the lower body grew almost stationary, allowing the upper body to wale down on the pitch from high over the rear shoulder and put maximal backspin on the ball in the (ever less likely) event that contact was made. A backspun ball will climb very high; and if a really tall boy hits it really high on a slightly windy day, it will end up sailing over a fence. Otherwise, and especially for shorter boys, it becomes a simple pop-up—a “can of corn”.

So thanks to technology, baseball became a big boy’s game, and then a big man’s game. The steroids scandals of the Nineties might never have happened if bats had not shifted shape so as to reward blunt upper-body strength. Now we spectators have become so used to seeing the home run as the only alternative to the tedious pop-up (or the weak ground ball—the consequence of a steep downward swing that comes too early and meets the ball on its upward follow-through) that nothing else in the game interests us. We prefer the annual Home-Run Derby to the All Star Game that it precedes; and certain “innovators” are seriously suggesting, even, that we cut extra-inning affairs short by staging a home-run shootout the way soccer breaks ties with penalty kicks.

For those who care, this is quite a fascinating morality tale. A massive, across-the-board degradation of skills among players, strategy among coaches, and even patience and taste among spectators was all set in motion by a seemingly benign adjustment in the bat’s building material at lower levels of the game. We practically never see the entire range of consequences that will follow from technological change: the variables are too numerous and human behavior too complex. Yet once we have embarked upon the changes, we can almost never work our way back up the road after rethinking our selection. Indeed, we can almost never rethink it, because the new ways too quickly reprogram our entire outlook. We become trapped in the devastating folly of supposing our lifestyle better and better merely because it’s not that of our grandparents. We have no idea what we’ve lost; and, in our Lilliputian cocksureness, we scoff at the notion that we have lost anything at all.

Dismissing Conspiracy Is the Shortcut to Being Duped

No one wants to be a “science-denier” these days. As insipid and fatuous as the phrase is (I thought that skepticism and receptiveness to revision were essential to scientific thought?), twenty-first century Americans accept it as an especially caustic version of “stupid idiot”. If experts in white coats tell us one thing in peer-reviewed professional journals, therefore, while relatively uncredentialed protesters howl away at them from personal websites, we smirk at the protest. What a bunch of losers! What a lot of wacko conspiracy-buffs and flat-earth troglodytes!

At the same time, we—the general public—are pretty troglodytic on any given issue. We really don’t understand the intricacies of the cyber world or the medical world. How could we? How could any one human brain? Perhaps a brilliant, devoted professional might understand in some detail the current state of learning in one advanced science; but of other sciences (and often ones related to his own field), he is necessarily as ignorant as a Dante scholar of electrical engineering. Ours is the age of the specialist—and as Ortega y Gasset noted a century ago, every specialist tends to think that he knows everything about everything just because he knows almost everything about one tony group of things.

Well, maybe that’s not quite true. I incline to believe, rather, that we invoke holy “science” in areas where we have none because we’re all too aware of our deficiency. By endorsing what the “scientists” have discovered in that field, however, we demonstrate to the world that we understand the pedigree of true knowledge. No, we’re not biochemists… but we’re smart enough to know when biochemists should have the last word, unlike those loony conspiracy-theorists!

This makes us easy prey for genuine conspiracy. Since our egotism inhibits us from asking such obvious questions as, “What if they’re cooking the books?” and, “What if no one dare blow a whistle lest he or she be forever banished from the profession?” we’re left sprawling in childish gullibility. We simply take it as an article of faith that the “science god” wouldn’t lie to us. What if the flu vaccine really isn’t any good, or what if chemotherapy is so liberally prescribed simply because the pharmaceutical-medical complex wants to recoup its immense investment in researching and developing a bunch of toxic drugs? How would we know… because professional ethics would compel the white coats to come clean? Really?

I suppose another reason why we scoff at wacko whistleblowers is what used to be called “whistling in the graveyard”. We need to put on a brave face… because if we once admit our enormous degree of unknowing and exposure, we’d hardly be able to shut our eyes at night. Better to stop our ears, shut our eyes, and repeat in a loud voice, “It’s science! It’s science! It’s science!”

And yet… quis custodes custodiet? Who will guard the guards?

Peter Pan Run Amuck in the Era of Passion, Sass, and Exhibitionism

I heard a ballplayer whose glory days were in the Eighties opine on TV yesterday that he wished he had been more expressive while in uniform–more “passionate”, like the studs of today.  Fist-pumps, bat flips, victory dances in the dugout after a home run… he apparently found all this more “honest” on the player’s part and more entertaining from the spectator’s chair.  There’s something (and I should say quite a lot) that this old warrior oddly doesn’t understand about yesteryear’s Boys of Summer.  Yes, they wouldn’t let you get away with such gallivanting-monkey routines.  The pitcher would deck you with his best fastball the next time you stepped into the box–or the opposing team might not even let you get back to your bench before pouring out onto the field.  Why was that?  Was it because the old boys weren’t involved in the game–because they lacked “passion”?

Just the reverse, actually.  They were so absorbed in their chores that, should an adversary dance a derisive jig upon their best effort brought to naught, the insult bit them to the marrow. No one back then was trying to launch balls in some exhibitionist home run derby or spread his bright feathers in a slam-dunk contest: they were, as George Will has called them, men at work. The day’s labor of a working man doesn’t deserve to be scoffed at. Try it at your peril.

The lads of today, in contrast, do not bring an adult’s pride and determination to their job site. They bring a kid’s vainglory and frivolity. Like children, they have not yet fully grasped the self/other distinction. They can sense in any given moment no more than their own exultation, narcissistically–they cannot imagine what chagrin they would feel at the receiving end of a defeat and extrapolate that sentiment to the proud foe they have just vanquished.

We see this pathological childishness in so many theaters of pop culture that I really can’t think of one where it fails to appear. Take but a single further example. Tomi Lehren exploded upon Twitter and YouTube and won herself a nice gig on The Blaze by sassing her political adversaries. My limited exposure to her never suggested to me that she lacked intelligence or sensitivity, given the chance to display them–but her shtick did not involve giving herself many such chances. Young, petite blonde chick who’s twenty-five while looking and sounding all of twelve, Tomi could nyah-nyah at Black Lives Matter or campus protesters in vagina hats with all the joy and spirit of a brat kid at the zoo chucking rocks into the tiger’s cage. This is what people wanted to see her do… and so she did it, right up until the moment when she got a little too sassy and struck the tiger in the eye. It remains to be seen if Glenn Beck will renew her employment after she–in one of those endzone boogies that draws an “unsportsman-like conduct” flag–styled the abortion-opponents of her party hypocrites while congratulating herself for her marvelous coherence. All the issue’s complexities flew away in a toss of golden hair and in tones of juvenile but winsome smugness… and away went the paycheck, too.

Of course, no one made Beck employ Tomi, to begin with–and he knew exactly what he was buying. My dismay is over why such juvenilia sells. Is there no hope for us to recover any gravitas, any internal ballast, and sense of substantial selfhood hidden away from the world’s prying eye, ever again in this age of constant posing? Have we culturally contracted a terminal case of chronic adolescence?

Doctors: The Village Priests of the Twenty-First Century

It sounds really strange to people… but I haven’t seen a General Practitioner since I had to take a physical for my first job, about forty years ago. A doctor set my arm once upon a time when, as a kid, I broke it roller-skating. Thank you. A dentist once told me, when I was in my early twenties, that I’d had the world’s smallest filling. Now, I’ve never had a filling in my life—I think I would have remembered, and I didn’t have much to remember back then. Yet he was adamant, and… doctors are never wrong, you know.

Except when they are. An anesthesiologist almost sent my wife into a coma during what was supposed to be out-patient surgery. Another of the same noble calling shrank my father’s bladder to the size of a pea, so that he had to wear a catheter for the rest of his life. Several members of my family have been given prescriptions for blood pressure medicine which tormented them with unpleasant side-effects, and the few who finally refused to take any more pills never suffered any negative consequences. The flu vaccine has also introduced its share of miseries into my household… and who knows if it works? How would you ever possibly know?

The largest medical database in the world will categorically not consider any studies of homeopathic treatment, yet the medical-pharmaceutical complex’s standard approach to treating cancer—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—is itself dangerously carcinogenic in two of the three strategies. Indeed, the role of radiation in spawning cancer had long been known not only to include x-rays and radioactive material, but also electromagnetic energy in certain doses. While the public fear of power lines strung over one’s back yard has declined before a steady bombardment of professional derision, I well recall that children were warned back in the Seventies not to sit too close to televisions. The computer monitors before which I sat directly during the Nineties contained the same cathode ray tubes and affected my overall health in numerous ways. To this day I feel somewhat diarrheic if I sit for a couple of hours even before an iPad, and most of my computer work has to be done behind an improvised Faraday Screen. Yet medical minds of my acquaintance or that I encounter online continue to pooh-pooh my concerns. I’m a crackpot, and they know everything.

Why should I trust a profession like that? Now, there’s no denying that competent, conscientious doctors exist; but I’m nevertheless amazed at commercials that urge us to “ask our doctor” about this or that drug that will improve our mood, remove an irksome rash, or reduce our stress. If you listen closely, you can usually hear the narrator warn in a rapid-fire undertone of “harmful or fatal side-effects in rare cases” involving destroyed livers, kidneys, and stomach linings. And yet, I’m supposed to have “my doctor” ready and waiting for a quick consultation the way, in a different time, people had a village priest handy to hear a confession.

It’s the arrogance that bothers me the most. Any real person of learning isn’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” When is the last time you heard those words out of a doctor?

Pampered, Morally Superior Youth: Socrates Saw Them Coming

Honestly, I chose to do Plato’s Euthyphro in one of my classes because it’s short and we didn’t have a very big slot on the syllabus. It came as a shock to me, as I read the work over for last week’s presentation, that this dialogue is a little masterpiece.

Just one point is suitable to raise in the present small space. Euthyphro perfectly represents a type of well-educated, somewhat pampered, under-occupied, morally pretentious young person. As Socrates (answering to the charge that will end up costing him his life) waits outside the law courts with the lad, Euthyphro explains his own business. He’s there to charge his father with homicide. The case is clouded, involving a servant who got roaring drunk, killed another servant, had to be restrained while the authorities back in town were consulted, and seems to have died in his bonds due to inattention. Euthyphro treats his dad’s conduct like straight-up cold-blooded murder. Indeed, he is so eager to demonstrate to one and all his transcending, impartial application of moral standards without any regard for the transgressor’s personal status that one must wonder if he hasn’t painted his father’s criminal negligence in darker colors than it deserves. Perhaps the drunken killer drowned in his own vomit… but that wouldn’t give Euthyphro an occasion to display his high-minded disinterest and utter devotion to pure principle. Though Socrates subtly implies that the young man bears more than a passing resemblance to Meletus, the holier-than-thou firebrand who accuses the old philosopher of corrupting Athens, all that Euthyphro can see is that he, like his persecuted teacher, is being martyred for daring to adhere to the truth.

This kid reminds me ever so much of certain exhibitionists in our society (young, more often than not) who have an insurmountable need to be martyred in a cause. Of course, they would crumple like tissue paper if presented with real martyrdom: theirs is entirely a matter of sound and fury. They see the racism with which the rest of us criminally conduct our daily lives; they see our sexism, our greed, our insensitivity to the poor, our hypocrisy at claiming to believe in a supreme moral being. If we were sincere, we would be like them (though, if we were like them, they would have to find yet another way of creating distance between their lofty plateau and the vulgar mass). We could try to point out to them the complexities of the situation: that indiscriminate charity invites exploitation and indigence, that cultural friction can hardly be racism since race is genetic while culture is taught, and so forth. All such parsing of the issues is just carping and equivocating. They know what we really are… because they know what they need us to be. We must be the squalid, two-faced scoundrels that leave paragons like themselves gleaming in bright contrast.

This is true even—perhaps especially—when we are old enough to be their parents. We don’t deserve any respect: it was our generation that made of the world the mess that it is. And so they consign us to the dustbin as they irresistibly and inevitably age into arrogant, self-righteous ideologues whose orthodoxy emanates from the presumption of their own infallibility.

It’s some small comfort, I suppose, to discover that these same annoying people existed even in the days of Socrates.