I suppose it makes sense, when you stop to think about it (even when your AP Biology quiz on the hormone cycles of human reproduction sealed your future career as not-an-OB/GYN), that having octuplets would carry with it certain dangers— mostly because, I suppose, the odds on naturally-occurring octuplets are longer than the odds when you’re implanting multiple embryos.  And while it appears the solution with the most support is reasonable (restricting the number of embryos implanted at a given time), that this is even being tossed out as a serious option is disturbing:

“Rosenthal, on the other hand, questions the woman’s capacity to make a good decision under the circumstances. Some neonatologists believe that when pregnant women are told about dangers of prematurity or have great expectations about giving birth, their judgment can be impaired, she said.

The situation raises the issue of whether a doctor ought to override a patient’s wishes for the sake of saving lives, she said. Although the health care system in America gives patients autonomy in making decisions about their own bodies, when emotionally distraught, some people decide poorly, she said.” [emphasis added – JLW]

The case the article was discussing involved a woman refusing “selective termination” (which, I have learned, “is not the same as traditional abortion because the goal is the healthiest possible birth rather than the termination of a pregnancy”).  That is to say, there are doctors out there, taken seriously by at least CNN, who think they ought to have the right to force an abortion.  Which seems to be against the spirit of the wood planks tied to a tree in the middle of campus proclaiming, “Choice Today!  Choice Forever!”  (The decorative condoms have deflated.)

What’s worth complaining about more than the abortion aspect (because I’ll either be shouting into the wind or preaching to the choir, depending on who’s reading), or the Orwellian euphemism (self-evident), is this attitude of cold-blooded “rationalism” and tyranny of “expertise.”  The mother is behaving unreasonably because she’s not willing to make a value-judgment about human life — that the conclusion drawn is that she is “emotionally distraught” flattens out the entire moral and — yes — emotional matrix behind the decision.  It is a matter of numerical, utilitarian preservation, not adherence to what anyone might believe is a more important truth behind the matter.

Remember Obama’s response to an abortion question at Rick Warren’s interview-thing: above his pay-grade.  This doctor certainly agrees, with respect to the patient, that it is above their pay-grade: but precisely at her own.  She, not the patient, is the expert; she, not the patient, should make all decisions.  Because of her expertise, her moral system supersedes that of the mother.  The individual self and that self’s moral matrix is consumed by that of the doctor: the individual is there to go on living on a physical level, because that’s apparently what Nature and Science call for, but since living on spiritual, moral, and intellectual planes interfere with that, we must outsource.  The reason a patient’s right to control their own body is so important is that it is also the right to control one’s own self: this would seem doubly (yet differently) so in the case of a mother and the right to protect her children (born or unborn, and call them what you will in the latter case) — is there no parental prerogative?  And what would the absorption of that prerogative into the realm of “expertise” mean except that the role of parent — with the requisite individuality — is being absorbed into an outsourced expertise?

Or, to conjure that space-travelling Percyian to make his (as is frequent) all-too-human point:

MCCOY: “Dear Lord, do you suppose we’re intelligent enough to…. Suppose…what if this thing were used where life already existed?”

SPOCK: “It would destroy such life in favor of its new matrix.”

MCCOY: “It’s new matrix. Do you have any idea what you’re saying?”

SPOCK: “I was not attempting to evaluate its moral implications, Doctor. As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than create.”

MCCOY: “Not anymore, now we can do both at the same time. According to myth, the Earth was created in six days. Now watch out, here comes Genesis. We’ll do it for you in six minutes!”

SPOCK: “I do not dispute that in the wrong hands…”

MCCOY: “In the wrong hands? Would you mind telling me whose are the right hands, my logical friend? Or are you, by chance in favor of these experiments?”

KIRK: “Gentlemen, gentlemen…”

SPOCK: “Really, Dr. McCoy. You must learn to govern your passions. They will be your undoing. Logic suggests…”

MCCOY: “Logic? My God, the man’s talking about logic. We’re talking about universal Armageddon!”


I’m going to try to put together some more descriptive/cohesive thoughts on conservatism, writing, and reporting over the weekend, but for now I’ll point you toward William Beutler’s take on it from way back in May, or at least this paragraph, which is the point I particularly want to channel:

“The reaction is usually to set up an alternative forum which is defined as being explicitly conservative. The problem is that these alternative organizations often operate inside a bubble which their “liberal” counterparts do not. This can be the case beyond journalism as well. On the web we can see this very clearly: The non-partisan but in some ways “liberal” Wikipedia has been answered by the conservative-minded, low-quality Conservapedia.”

If nothing else, it seems that C11’s shuttering has reopened discussion of conservatives and reporting — not merely about politics, but about culture.  So there’s your silver-lining for the day.
In his C11 post-mortem, Joe Carter answers the question I spent five months pondering: What’s up with that name?  And why is Google unable to help me figure it out?

“In case you hadn’t heard, LibertyWire was our original name. But it didn’t fit. Even if we were to be a political site, LibertyWire didn’t convey the type of site we wanted to become. As William Beutler said, the name “sounds like an Associated Press for Ron Paul voters.” So we searched for a new name. And searched. And searched.

Choosing a domain name is a tough task; choosing a domain name that suits a crew of hardheaded and opinionated writers is nearly impossible. The suggestions ranged from the horrible (Voxtale) to the bland (MainStreetScene) to the what-were-they-thinking (The Confabulum(!)). I had been kicking around the idea that we should be focused on 11 key areas of culture (which became our 11 categories), so I suggested “Culture11.” We didn’t hate it, which was consensus enough. It was short, easy to remember, and – most importantly – the URL was available. Culture11 we became.”

I tried writing this last night, but it wasn’t clicking.  Not only am I incapable of writing two non-obits/non-elegies back-to-back, but what’s to be said in memorium has been said better than I could hope to.

I always viewed Conor’s essay, “Electric Kool-Aid Conservatism,” as something of a manifesto for the site.  The fate of Culture11 in particular notwithstanding, the piece remains true.  What conservatism needs now is more journalists, broadly defined, not activists.  I say “broadly defined” because I want to include the full breadth of form that could be included in this very apt definition of his (emphasis mine):

“Unless colleges and journalism schools start assigning Burke, Hayek, Friedman, and quite a few others, the answer depends upon whether the right is willing to invest in talented young people who understand conservatism and libertarianism, but whose foremost loyalty is to investigating their world and conveying whatever they find.

Perhaps it’s arrogant for a would-be writer to go about proclaiming that what we need now are “writers” — but that word alone kind of misses the point.  If a general conservatism is more right than wrong, then the recording and transmission of what we see in the world around us should prove that point.  Showing, not bloviating, is the way forward.  And — lest we forget that the title was composed of words (well, a word and a number) — it establishes culture.  The “culture wars” are the wrong wars in our society because they are a fight between “cultures” rather than a fight to retain and further establish the beautiful one we have, and the tradition underlying it.

That essay, and a week-long spate of pure energy crackling out of PoMoCo last fall, pushed me into getting started with this writerly experiment you’re reading (a form I never imagined using and at a time I would have never imagined beginning), and, like many others, gave me my first opportunity to see my writing published.  I’ll always be grateful for that, even if I wish I were more satisfied with the piece.


January 27, 2009

I’ve always been more a partisan of Philip Roth than of John Updike; my experience with his work is limited.  I suppose Roth’s post-war Jews grabbed my attention more than Updike’s “Protestant small-town middle-class,” and if I needed the latter, I always had Faulkner.  But I still felt something drop in my stomach when I read the headline.

The piece of his writing that made the strongest impression on me (and I’ve only read a handful of stories, essays, and poems; never a novel), was this story, from The Atlantic‘s 2007 fiction issue.  And what I remember isn’t much the story itself (I remember much more the act of reading it, out back in late summer humidity) than the single, fragmentary line I copied into my notebook:

“… her mother tongue, the language of her heart…”

I wrote it down then because “mother tongue” made me think of Yiddish, the mame loshn now departed.  But today, looking at it for the first time in over a year and with much more experience now in and out of English and other languages, I can say it explains my love-bordering-on-obsession with English — why I come back to her after every dalliance with classical Greek, even though that Hellenic glossa is the more beautiful — better than Roth’s brief apologia in The Counterlife ever could, no matter how fond I am of quoting it.

Andrew links to a study showing the rate of tree deaths in America is accelerating. It makes me think of this passage from Wendell Berry’s essay, “A Native Hill”:

“It occurs to me that it is no longer possible to imagine how this country looked in the beginning, before the white people drove their plows into it. It is not possible to know what was the shape of the land here in this hollow when it was first cleared. Too much of it is gone, loosened by the plows and washed away by the rain. I am walking the route of the departure of the virgin soil of the hill. I am not looking at the same land the firstcomers saw. The original surface of the hill is as extinct as the passenger pigeon. The pristine America that the first white man saw is a lost continent, sunk like Atlantis in the sea. The thought of what was here once and is gone forever will not leave me as long as I live. It is as though I walk knee-deep in its absence.”

My paternal family, my grandmother says, can be traced in America in part to before/around the time of America’s founding. What they saw – what so enamored them of where my family is of today – is gone. Part of that loss is natural with time; part of it is the failure of prior generations and this generation: there is a part of the Creation that we have failed to bequeath to our children despite not being able to claim much good from its absence.

I recognize, of course, that man in civilization and nature do not coexist well or easily. But when we have so decimated the sight that drew us here, and are doing it now for concrete and steel and pavement – let me put it this way: the Creation is God’s handiwork, and physical civilization is man’s. The beauty of the latter will never be comparable to that of the former.

Putting War on Trial

January 25, 2009

This seems to me the way things should work, if we’re going to try to govern war with the same type of system we govern most of society: a nation accused, even unofficially, prepares to make its case.  I do think we’re moving toward a point where all military actions are going to require participant nations to prepare such defenses, though, and I don’t know that this is a good thing for the strength of the system.  Still, it is reassuring to see a nation saying that if it is signatory to certain international laws, it will accept that it needs to defend its actions within those laws.

Count me skeptical, however, as to whether this is a viable solution, in the long-term — that is, if its end-goal is to constrain war to certain just/legal limits.  There’s a danger in thinking that war can be held in check by paper documents, international tribunals, and high-minded sentiments: that we might someday think we have effectively neutered war, or feel toward it the way Roy did toward that tiger — it ain’t ever gonna be truly tamed.  And once we start treating it like it can be, or it has been, then we may find it more dangerous than before.

[Note: I’ve found myself doing a good deal of quick little informal online responses to readings for class this quarter (the response paper is dead and gone / It’s with O’Leary in the grave) so hopefully no one will mind when, from time to time, I hyperlink them up and toss them onto the site for all to see: especially when I’m otherwise swamped and have neither time nor mental stability for writing a new post.  This was supposed to be a discussion of Seamus Heaney’s poem in light of Yeats; rather, it turned almost more into a discussion of the 20th century in light of Yeats.  And “epikalupsis” is more or less the opposite of apokalupsis, from which we get “apocalypse.”]

In Yeats’ poems during and after World War I, the Irish War for Independence, and the Irish Civil War (and, toward the end, seeing World War II on the horizon), he presents the image of world in which some destructive energy has been unleashed: the loose falcon and beast slouching towards Bethlehem in “The Second Coming”; the disturbing stone-hearted “terrible beauty” of “Easter 1916”; literal sounds and visions of war in “Meditations in Time of Civil War”; some sort of daimonic-demonic force freed again, neither true to the Greek conception nor the later Christian evolution of it, but rather some curious halfblooded monster-child of the two whom Yeats saw “lurch[ing] past, his great eyes without thought / Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks, / That insolent fiend Robert Artisson” (“Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”).

Yeats sees an age of non-apocalypse, in which the only thing uncovered is uncertainty brought on by terror; the only veil torn back was what our knowledge consisted of. In Ireland, the daimon of this age manifested itself not merely in war, but in civil war-it seemed as if Yeats’ worries about too long a sacrifice were prescient. And so reading Seamus Heaney’s poetry, particularly “Two Lorries” in light of Yeats becomes, in its way, a cyclical act, the reader thinking, I’ve seen this show before.

Then one looks at the date of Heaney’s poem: 1996, describing the 1993 bombing of the Magherafelt bus station, realizes that in 1998, two years after Heaney’s work was published, deaths related to fighting in Northern Ireland-an ongoing blend of Irish Independence/Irish Civil War-would triple; watching the film Michael Collins on St. Patrick’s Day at age nine, not knowing why crying, while one’s father worries Ireland is about to destroy itself; how even now it sometimes seems unnatural that Ireland should be at relative peace: and it seems that Yeats’ “image out of Spiritus Mundi” was accurately chosen: the sphinx does not terrorize by all-consuming apocalyptic conflagration, but by presence-it positions itself outside the city walls, rather than storming them, is content to terrorize from afar by the occasional killing.

So it is in the only mode available that Heaney describes Magherafelt: past and present, dream and reality blurring into one another. A difficulty remembering whether his mother-already dead-was or was not one of the victims. And such fear implicit in the question: “but which lorry / Was it now?” There is a reason he becomes as a child again in its wake, hoping for his mother: not a reversion to innocence, but incomprehension, no answer in sight to a sphinx’s riddles and understanding less with each passing event.

Joe Carter critiquing Andrew Sullivan is already well-trodden ground, so I’ll try to be freshly relevant:

The word ‘Constitution’ in the Oath of Office refers to a specific written document, which we know as the ‘Constitution of the United States.’  (I don’t mean that to sound as condescending as it does; diction requires it.)  ‘Politeia’ is the Greek for ‘constitution’, ‘state’, ‘government-of-the-state’, ‘body-of-laws’, ‘citizen-body’, etc.  It is a vague, ambiguous term, which is why, when you read Aristotle’s Athenaion Politeia, you have to be aware of the nuance within it.  Sometimes he is referring to body of law as aspect of politeia; sometimes to citizen body; sometimes to a far more esoteric term.  From a response paper last quarter:

“The politeia, for Aristotle, was distinct from the state. If, as he says, a state is “an association of citizens in a constitution” (Politics 3.iii, p. 176) then it is in part an the manner in which the state and authority in it are arranged. He goes on to say quite clearly that, “the citizen body is the constitution.” And he later refers to the Four Hundred as “trying to keep control of the constitution” (Politics 5.iv, p. 309): a politeia is an arrangement which can be controlled, and which lends power to those who hold it.

“This supports the view which is implicitly presented in AP that a change in constitution is dependent upon a change in who has control of the state, or a share in running it. At each constitutional change, the number of those who take part in the public life of the state either rises or falls. Solon expands political authority to a wider number of people, and so Pisistratus, even though he behaved “more like a citizen than a tyrant” (AP 16.1, p. 58), caused a constitutional change when he took power because “he would take care of all public affairs” (AP 15.5, p. 57). The aim of Kleisthenes’ reforms of the demes and tribes was to make it “so that more men should have a share in the running of the state” (AP 21.1, p. 63). The rise of the Areopagus is a change because it takes more control of public life, even if it left private affairs alone. Those who had a share in the state shrank, and when it was overthrown, it expanded again.”

If you’re still with me, the point is that, were we working with the Aristotelian concept of the word we roughly (for lack of anything better) translate as ‘constitution,’ Joe Carter would have a much stronger point.  Rather, in American politics and government, there is no ambiguity; ‘Constitution’ (note capitalization) refers specifically to a written document.  The Aristotelian conception is closer to (but still distant from) the model of the British Constitution.

Most notable is the American conceit that the Constitution is the state, directly contrary to the Aristotelian notion of separateness, or what might find in a more ambiguously defined use of ‘constitution.’  If, somehow, all of the current 50 states were lost and Americans forced into exile on previously un (or sparsely) inhabited islands, but kept the Constitution, the state (as well as both constitution and Constitution) would be continuous.

Now, of course protecting/defending the territory is essential to the survival of the state; no state can exist without a land or a people, and cannot long exist purely as an idea.  But preserving/defending the Constitution are also essential.  And because territory is potentially transitory, it can be defending extra-constitutionally, and only the Constitution grants authority, the Oath makes the point of saying it is most essential to the survival of the state: that the state itself is embodied in it.

UPDATE: It would behoove me to note that the Ath Pol was lost until the late 19th century, so, from a Foundational perspective, the Founders could not have been thinking of any portion that was not quoted elsewhere.  However, as can be seen above, the specificity of ‘Constitution’ to a document and the American conception of what it embodies are also contrary to the definition given in his Politics, which was not lost.  The Ath Pol merely serves as an example to better illustrate the matter.

Also, it would further behoove me to disclose that I don’t even think the Ath Pol was written by Aristotle himself but by two distinct students of his (at the same time, more or less, mind you, and on a joint assignment, and possibly edited/proofread by the man  himself).  As far as it pertains to this matter, as students of his and members of his school writing a text that was to be published by it, would be operating with his definition of politeia.  But this matter of authorship, I should note, puts me in a very small minority that runs afoul of the leading scholar of the text… in other words, makes me an eccentric.  (This despite being right.)

Obama’s left-handed!

For the Record

January 20, 2009

I watched Obama take the Oath of Office on ESPN.  An accidental homage to his (wise) refusal to watch anything but Sportscenter on the campaign bus.

Setting aside all the particularities of this inauguration (which others will no doubt speak about), isn’t it striking and remarkable — beautiful even, in its way — to watch peaceful transition of Executive power and authority?  And that we have done it successfully for so long?


This just struck me as possibly the greatest merit of formal poetry: it sounds so much better when read aloud when its in meter than if it’s free verse.  (Yes, over-generalization, but seems to usually be the case.)