Where Could Such An Obligation Arise?

The WSJ has an article today that Hot Air tagged "There is No Such Thing as Free Birth Control."  The article makes the point that someone has to pay for the birth control or abortifacients that come with insurance plans, and since the insurers are going to be tasked to provide it at no cost to the end user, that means that the cost will be hidden and distributed into the costs of the plan.  It has to be that way, because the stuff costs money:  someone has to pay for it.

The point of the article is that this continues to violate the religious freedom of Catholics, who are commanded by their faith not to materially support abortion, contraception, etc.  That's true, of course, but it's not what interests me.

Rather, the Hot Air tag to the article suddenly made me realize how odd it is to expect to receive something expensive for free.  It's not usually the case that you obtain expensive things for free.

The argument seems to be that it's important for women, so therefore it should be free to women.  There are lots of things that are at least as important, though, that we certainly don't expect to be free:  food, for example, or sufficient clothing for the winter.  The argument seems to be that birth control ought to be free (and indeed it is, in the form of abstinence, a form of birth control that Catholics consider it a virtue to materially assist:  but I digress).  It ought to be free, and any employer ought to be sure that any of their employees receives it as free.

This is really an astonishing demand.  I could understand demanding it at cost:  we could structure an argument whereby insurance companies are understood to receive a reasonable profit, and as part of the price of approving the practice of the business in the state, we mandate that they arrange to provide certain critical medications to their consumers at cost.  We might ask, even then, why birth control or abortifacients would be the medicine we chose to occupy this position of special importance -- surely life-saving drugs would be a more worthy choice?  Still, at least at cost could conceivably be a reasonable demand.

Free, though?  Nothing is free.  Everyone knows this.

There is a parallel with last week's Komen feud, in which it was asserted that -- having once given Planned Parenthood money -- a kind of moral obligation existed to continue providing money for free.  Now we have an obligation, apparently on all of us who participate in employer-sponsored health plans, to provide pills for free.

How could any of us have come under an obligation to provide these things for free?  How could such an obligation arise?  "By law" is not an adequate answer, but it appears to be the only one.

UPDATE:  An answer of sorts comes in this piece from Think Progress:

Manmade global warming is one of the most troubling symptoms of economic and social injustice around the planet, and the ”countries in the developing world least responsible for the growing emissions are likely to experience the heaviest impact of climate change, with women bearing the greatest toll.” Researchers have found that empowering women to reduce unplanned pregnancies is one of the most cost-effective ways to combat greenhouse pollution, as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson discussed at the Durban climate conference last December:
In addressing climate resilience, Robinson stressed the importance of focusing on health and burden impacts of climate change. One of the keys is access to reproductive health for women.

If all the assumptions made here were true, it would perhaps provide a ground from which an obligation of this sort could arise.  We could point to a common good -- the survival of the planet -- which might obligate all of us to contribute to it.  It might even be a good of a high enough order to explain why we would prefer the Pill to life-saving drugs.

Of course, all of these assumptions are controversial, so the ground is an unsteady one to say the least.  Nevertheless, this kind of argument grounds support for families:  we distribute the costs of public education to everyone, not just families with children, because we recognize that we all have a stake in ensuring that the next generation comes, and is educated and capable of undertaking the work of continuing the civilization.  Education is not free -- you must pay property taxes if you own property, and frequently also sales taxes, to support the local schools.  Still, it is offered below cost, which means that the cost is distributed.

The argument for public support of contraception and abortifacients is even stronger, since it demands that these things be free.  I would like to say that the two policies are different as well in that the one is in support of flourishing families and fecundity, while the other is in support of withering and barrenness; which is to say, that the difference is between life and death.  That may not be fair, though; if the supporter of free birth control believes that the planet shall otherwise die, they are in a fashion on the side of life.  They simply believe that life will not be possible but for a very few of us, on very much more parsimonious terms.

It's Eighteen Degrees Outside... What Should We Do?

Well, now, that depends on whether you are in Sweden...

...or New Jersey.

Actually, maybe there's not so much difference after all.

(H/t BSBFB).

Via Cassandra

In July 1996, the 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay, a partner at Bain Capital, had disappeared. She had attended a rave party in New York City and gotten high on ecstasy. 
Three days later, her distraught father had no idea where she was. Romney took immediate action. He closed down the entire firm and asked all 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to help find Gay's daughter. Romney set up a command center at the LaGuardia Marriott and hired a private detective firm to assist with the search. He established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the NYPD, and went through his Rolodex and called everyone Bain did business with in New York, and asked them to help find his friend's missing daughter. Romney's accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper put up posters on street poles, while cashiers at a pharmacy owned by Bain put fliers in the bag of every shopper. Romney and the other Bain employees scoured every part of New York and talked with everyone they could, prostitutes, drug addicts, anyone. 
That day, their hunt made the evening news, which featured photos of the girl and the Bain employees searching for her. As a result, a teenage boy phoned in, asked if there was a reward, and then hung up abruptly. The NYPD traced the call to a home in New Jersey, where they found the girl in the basement, shivering and experiencing withdrawal symptoms from a massive ecstasy dose. Doctors later said the girl might not have survived another day. Romney's former partner credits Mitt Romney with saving his daughter's life, saying, "It was the most amazing thing, and I'll never forget this to the day I die."...
Gay says Romney helped "save" his daughter, though previous reports have differed on the condition she was in. The line in the retelling now circulating -- that doctors told Gay she might not have lived another day -- comes from a Boston Globe report in 2002.

Newsday, for its part, reported in July 1996 that "Melissa's parents said she was physically unharmed though she appeared 'very fragile.' The family's doctor had examined the girl and pronounced her in fairly good condition. ..."

"She was not harmed," Robert Gay said at news conference after she was found, according to the New York Daily News. "She was in tears. We just gave her hugs and brought her back home." 
It's of no matter whether she was close to death or in 'fairly good condition,' since no one knew that until she was found.  The point is that this was a damn decent thing to do.  I'm going to rescind my absolute objection to voting for Romney on the basis of this, the story checking out as it appears to do.  It's a fit way for a man to have behaved toward his fellows, and it provides an answer to a question that has bothered me.  I think we now know whom he takes for his brother.

He's still not my candidate, on account of positive reasons to prefer Mr. Santorum, and other objections to Mr. Romney's approach that I reserve.  Nevertheless, such work should be rewarded, and it would be wrong not to recognize where a man has done a worthy thing.

Preparerent Se Viriliter Et Sapienter

Via Lars Walker (who notes that Troll Valley is now available as an iBook, if any of you are devotees -- apparently no links are required), a modestly large online version of the complete Bayeux Tapestry.

If you don't read Latin, you can find scene-by-scene translations of the text here.

The "Zweep" of Our Engines

The inimitable Iowahawk takes on the second annual preposterous "Detroit is A-OK" Superbowl spot:
Okay, yeah, so this isn't Detroit, it's actually New Orleans. So sue me. We were supposed to film this in Detroit, but GM rented it out to film their Chevy Truck Apocalypse ad.
I thought he was kidding about filming in New Orleans, but I guess not.

Proof that Gingrich Really Is Smart

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), engaged in a tit-for-tat race for the primary wins, will be addressing this CPAC conference in the grand ballroom, giving impassioned speeches in an 11th-hour effort to convince conservatives that each is the right candidate to defeat President Obama. 
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be making his case over pizza and happy hour brews
The Newt 2012 campaign distributed a flier... leading up to the big, bold event: a pizza party with Newt at a nearby Italian kitchen on Connecticut Avenue from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 
“There will be $2 beers, too,” the volunteer told me.
As is well known, all the real progress at conventions and conferences happens at the bar afterwards.

The War in the Mind

A remarkable post on martial arts called The Pleasure of Drowning deals with the self-deception that comes from teaching your students how to fight you.  Here is a master of Aikido whose students have learned that they had best evade his every hint if they are to avoid a painful reprisal:

And here is what happened when he faced another master, who did not have that barrier of fear in the mind.

The author says that the students were complicit, but in fact they probably had each learned painful lessons in the face of the master, so that they were eager to avoid each of his strokes.  The competitor who had learned his own art did not come up with that fear of the master, and so beat him with ease.

There is a lesson here; there are several.  What are they?

An Invitation

I've written a small work of Arthurian fiction, on the order of a modest novel.  I think it would benefit from the critical eye of careful readers, and their healthy feedback.  If any of you would be interested, please let me know and I will arrange to send you a copy of the book.

On the Stakes in the Current Election

You've doubtless seen the news from yesterday; obviously I am pleased to see Mr. Santorum do well.  The key thing about yesterday's events, though, is not that they change the race all that much:  they put Mr. Santorum in the lead in terms of the number of states won, but given the structure of the primary that has no bearing on who actually becomes the nominee.

What it may do is give him the airtime he needs to become better known to the voters.  There is a certain sense in which our archetypes about how stories should be told influence our view of the world.  News stories about elections almost always take on the form of The Favorite and The Underdog; this race so far has been chiefly about competition for the role of The Underdog.  If yesterday cements Mr. Santorum in that role, we'll be ready to tell the story; much of The Favorite's strength comes from the fact that he has had no clear challenger, but rather a series of characters moving in and out of the role.

Though I often write about elections, it is not my habit to participate more than by voting.  This year may be different.  We are seeing a substantial fracture in the Democratic coalition because of the Obama administration's move to force Catholic charities to do things that are sins according to Catholic doctrine.  Much has been written about that lately, and I don't have more to add to it than to say that it is an important question in determining the degree to which we expect religion's submission to the state.  It is a difficult moral question even for Army chaplains who have binding oaths in both directions; but private citizens engaged in a religious charity have only one such binding obligation, and it is not to the state.

This is an attempt to redefine a basic part of the bargain at the root of our social contract.  John Locke wrote of his desire to see churches give up all coercive force to the state, in return for freedom from coercion in matters of faith.  The state's lane does not include using its coercive force to command a voluntary religious society into sin.  This is something we ought all to oppose, and I think Mr. Santorum is uniquely placed to do so.  (However, in fairness, I would like to note that Mr. Romney's organization believes its record on the same issue in MA has been distorted in the press; scroll to "Another false claim" for his perspective on the matter.)

We have always opposed the Affordable Health Care Act, precisely because massive Federal involvement in health care entails loss of freedom in the most intimate areas of our lives.  The loss of practical religious freedom is only the first such command.  If we are not successful, others will follow.

Medieval Romance

This begins with the reading of a section from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in the original Old English.  It's always fascinating to listen to Old English read aloud:  it's almost intelligible, but -- without training and study -- just beyond comprehension.  Middle English often is comprehensible if read aloud, but our modern language depends so much on the French influence from the Norman period that the Old English escapes us.

You can get a closer look at some of those beautiful manuscripts at the exhibition's website.  If you happen to be in Oxford, the exhibition is free to attend; but alas, I imagine I will not be able to go.

Riding Home

I took a ride over to the ancestral home to join my father and mother, and my sister who happened to be in town, in watching the Super Bowl yesterday.  Here are some of the sights I grew up with.

 The forbidding face of Yonah Bald.  "Yonah" is a Cherokee word that means "bear."  I did my first rappelling on those rocks.

North Georgia College & State University, Georgia's Military College.  I spent a lot of time there as a young man, because my mother worked there and also pursued one of her degrees there.  It is located in the mountain-top city of Dahlonega, whose name comes from the Cherokee word for "Golden" because the nation's first gold rush happened there.  Some of the local gold makes up the roof of the college building in the background.

One of James Vann's taverns, a few yards from the Etowah river and not very much farther from the home where I grew up.  "Chief" Vann was the son of a Scottish fur trader and a Cherokee mother who was involved in a murderous raid against white settlers during the Chickamauga Wars.  He became rich and powerful through taverns, ferries and trading posts along the first Federal Road to pierce the Georgia mountains.  He burned one of his slaves alive for stealing, having hung a female slave by her thumbs to make her name the thief.  He also fought, and won, a famous mounted duel.

And you shall sit and spin

I said that I would marry,
And she would be my bride,
And alone we should not tarry,
And twenty things beside;
"I'll plough and sow and reap and mow
And you shall sit and spin,
Singing, 'How d'you do, and how d'you do,
And how d'you do' again."

Our annual Oysterfest went off brilliantly last night (pictures later). Our last guests have just departed, leaving behind a spinning wheel they are selling on behalf of a friend, which I intend to buy. I got some quick lessons before they left. No one element of the process of spinning a mass of wool into nice, even yarn is very difficult, but it will take some time learning to do them all at once. If I concentrate on the treadle, I can time the downstroke to coincide with the wheel's just turning over the top, so that it doesn't turn in reverse -- but then I've taken my attention off of the job of "drafting" (pulling) the end of the wool ball out into the very thin wisp that takes the spin. If I concentrate on drafting, I lose track of the treadle, or forget to pinch onto the wool at the right spot, or forget to let the wheel pull the spun portion onto the bobbin, or the completed yarn slips off the bobbin altogether and snarls. Each of these tasks must become more automatic before they can be aggregated smoothly.

I'm already eyeing my longer-haired dog as a potential source of wool. The shorter-haired dog, as you can see above, is eyeing the device with some suspicion.

We don't mow, as a rule, since we have nothing to say to lawns. I wonder, though, if I can persuade my husband to do all of the plowing, sowing, and reaping if I promise to do all the spinning? It seems like a good deal from my end.

But before I get to swallowed up in this new craft, I must finish Lars's book, which I am particularly enjoying. I'm about 2/3 of the way through, a feat I accomplished only by stealing moments from our hectic week preparing for Oysterfest.

The Crusader President

The Rondel of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

That Order is the oldest living chivalric order in the world; to be admitted is a very high honor indeed.  There are some consequences to it, however, for the direction of US foreign policy at a time when relations between the West and the Islamic World are at a delicate moment.

In general, Muslims respect deep faith in Christians as with others.  George W. Bush, for all his cowboy image, enjoyed the respect if not the trust of much of the Islamic world on just these grounds.  We can also reasonably observe that President Obama, for all that he was supposed to be more acceptable to Muslim world because of his Indonesian upbringing and Muslim stepfather, has not demonstrated much success in leveraging that supposed advantage to obtain improved relations.

I obviously cannot hold it against a man that he should belong to an Order that I greatly admire, and whose history inspires the highest respect.  Still, I wanted to put it out there for our discussion.  What do you think?