I've been reading Atul Gawande's fine new book, "Being Mortal," about that perennial favorite topic of mine, our insanely inadequate approach to end-of-life care.  When my aunt was enduring her final years in an assisted-living facility and, after she become bedridden with an inoperable broken hip, a nursing home, my cousins were mystified and exasperated by her unhappiness.  She had not been safe alone in her home in East Texas.  The assisted-living facility was a very nice one of its kind.  The family was reasonably attentive and generous.  Why was she always unhappy?  In describing the experience of his wife's grandmother, he almost exactly captures my aunt's woe:
Giving up her home on Greencastle Street meant giving up the life she had built for herself over decades. The things that made Longwood House so much safer and more manageable than the house were precisely what made it hard for her to endure. Her apartment might have been called "independent living," but it involved the imposition of more structure and supervision than she'd ever had to deal with before. Aides watched her diet. Nurse monitored her health. They observed her growing unsteadiness and made her use a walker. This was reassuring for Alice's children, but she didn't like being nannied or controlled. And the regulation of her life only increased with time. When the staff became concerned that she was missing doses of her medications, they informed her that unless she kept her medications with the nurses and came down to their station twice a day to take them under direct supervision, she would have to move out of independent living to the nursing home wing. [Her son and daughter-in-law] hired a part-time aide named Mary to help Alice comply, to give her some company, and to stave off the day she would have to transfer. She liked Mary. But having her hanging around the apartment for hours on end, often with little to do, only made the situation more depressing.
For Alice, it must have felt as if she had crossed into an alien land that she would never be allowed to leave. The border guards were friendly and cheerful enough. They promised her a nice place to live where she'd be well taken care of. But she didn't really want anyone to take care of her; she just wanted to live a life of her own. And those cheerful border guards had taken her keys and her passport. With her home went her control.
Gawande traces the treatment of the destitute elderly from  the disgraceful poorhouses of the early 20th century.  The first change, meant to be an improvement, was to hospitalize them.  At the time, medicine had little to offer beyond a clean, warm bed, adequate food and water, and kind nursing for those unlucky enough not to be able to find such things at home, with family.  Starting with the World War II era, the ability to treat infections with antibiotics suddenly converted hospitals from convalescent nursing homes to places of rapid, expert, intensive intervention and frequent cure.  Between 1946 and 1966 the U.S. built 9,000 new hospitals.  For a while, we emptied the poorhouses and placed their residents in hospitals.

We were disappointed to find, however, that the poorhouse problem hadn't gone away, despite the implementation of Social Security.  The problem was that the poorhouses weren't only for the poor:  they were also for those too frail to look after themselves alone. For those without family to care for them, it takes more than the ordinary pension to solve that problem.  Hospitals couldn't handle the burden, and in any case were ill-suited to long-term custodial care.  In 1954 Congress allocated funding for a wave of new "nursing homes":  13,000 were built by 1970.

If Gawande's wife's grandmother was uneasy about the loss of control in assisted living, she was devastated when she broke a hips and had to move into a nursing home, where she had no control over when to wake, sleep, bathe, or eat, or with whom she'd share a room; like my aunt, she was subjected to a series of abrupt changes in roommate, many of them delirious enough to keep her awake all night shouting.  "She felt incarcerated, like she was in prison for being old."  The home was not deliberately punitive, but it was an involuntary institutionalization, devoid of purpose or privacy.

Is it not possible, Gawande wonders, to maintain a life of freedom and worth when one has lost physical independence?  Are nursing homes and their inmates doomed to fight each other for control?
In the horrible places, the battle for control escalates until you get tied down or locked into your Geri-chair or chemically subdued with psychotropic medications. In the nice ones, a staff member cracks a joke, wags an affectionate finger, and takes your brownie stash away. In almost none does anyone sit down with you and try to figure out what living a life really means to you under the circumstances, let alone help you make a home where that life becomes possible.
This is the consequence of a society that faces the final phase of the human life cycle by trying not to think about it. We end up with institutions that address any number of societal goals--from freeing up hospital beds to taking burdens off families' hands to coping with poverty among the elderly--but never the goal that matters to the people who reside in them: how to make life worth living when we're weak and frail and can't fend for ourselves anymore.
 I haven't finished the book.  I'm hoping he has some ideas.  One of them certainly is going to be for elderly relatives to move in with the younger generation, an idea we've been wrestling with regarding my mother-in-law for some time.  I know that she'd hate leaving her home, even to live with us.  I have only to imagine leaving my home to move in with her to get an inkling of the horrifying prospect.  The only thing good that could be said about the plan is that it would beat a nursing home.

We should all be so lucky as to die relatively abruptly, at home.  My mother, stepmother, and father all died at home, not--unfortunately--abruptly, but at least without institutionalization.

Beyond red v. blue

Enough about political leanings.  Here are the important distinctions among states.

Our household is split 50/50 on this critical metric.

Not rendering unto Caesar

Russell Moore on the City of Houston's subpoena of anti-gay sermons:
Every authority, under God, is limited. Daniel is obedient to King Nebuchadnezzar, until the king decreed the way prayers should be offered. Peter and John are obedient to the authorities, until they are told how to preach, in which case they defy this authority (Acts 4:19-20).
Moreover, the issue is even clearer when we recognize that the City of Houston, and beyond that the broader American governing system, is, unlike in the case of Caesar, not the rule of one man (or one woman). There were all sorts of governing officials up and down the chain in the Roman Empire, but the ultimate accountability was Caesar himself. In our system of government, the ultimate “king” is the people. As citizens, we bear responsibility for electing officials, for speaking to laws that are made in our name, and for setting precedents by our actions. Shrugging this off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.
How would people react to a subpoena of Reverend Wright's sermons?

Repeal and replace

Gillespie's plan sounds like an improvement to me, even when reviewed in relentlessly hostile terms.

What's the federal government for?

It gets harder and harder to tell:
The shocking competence gap and the cavernous honesty gap — brought to you by the “most transparent administration in history” — make our heads spin as we careen from debacle to government-induced debacle. In the tumult, we can miss the main point: Why do we have a federal government?
Its purpose is to safeguard the American people and pursue our interests in the world, not to solve the world’s problems on our dime and, occasionally, by using us as laboratory mice. As free people, we can try to save the planet. The federal government, however, was not created to do it for us, much less to coerce us into implausible “humanitarian” schemes that always manage to line some crony’s pocket. National interest is our government’s only reliable compass, yet it has been discarded.

Friday Night MV

I think Fred and Ginger would have approved.

Why a travel ban wouldn't work

. . . and other hogwash from Politico.

1. It would choke off aid and could worsen the outbreak. Politico argues that a charter flight could cost $200,000 per person, and would stifle the inflow of health supplies to West Africa. But suppose we let commercial flights fly in, but not take any people out who hadn't been quarantined first? Sure, airlines would be reluctant to sell one-way tickets for $1,200 and take a loss on an empty return flight, but they could charge double for all one-way tickets. $2,400 a seat still beats $200,000. In any case, we've already got the military sending in supplies. What's more, every time we treat a case of Ebola here we spend a minimum of $500,000 in direct medical costs, not to mention the cost of all the after-the-fact tracking and isolation efforts.  Letting Duncan in has resulted in three such bills so far.  I don't see the good sense in economizing on charter-flight expenses.  What do you think it's cost Frontier Airlines for word to get out that one of its aircraft may have been contaminated?  How much money will Texas Health Presbyterian lose?  Would you schedule surgery there now?

2. It would make it harder to track infected people. Because they would lie and hide. None of that happening now, I guess.

3. Lawmakers are long on opinions, short on practical ideas. This is the usual "but Republicans won't get specific about alternatives" complaint, which works only when you're determined not to read a word Republicans publish on whatever the subject is, from healthcare to Ebola. What's the mystery about the practical way to make a travel ban work? We do it with communicable diseases in plants and animals all the time. More than a dozen countries already have imposed a travel ban on West Africa. Are their bans imprecise, impractical, or confusing in some way?

4. The math doesn't add up. The argument here seems to be that airport temperature screenings don't often turn up a problem. What to make of such a bizarre objection? Who's proposing airport temperature screenings that they're already supposedly doing anyway? We're talking about either an outright ban until the epidemic abates in West Africa, or a strict 21-day quarantine. We'd hope that a quarantine wouldn't identify many infected people, either, but the point isn't all the people who breathe a sigh of relief after 21 days and keep traveling: it's the occasional person who comes down with symptoms in that time and immediately goes into super-isolation and treatment. Politico's other argument is the vague "best to treat the problem at its source" business that I've been hearing everywhere. I agree it's a really good idea to treat the problem at its source, but that obviously entails keeping the problem largely at its source while we try to treat it. Ebola is not going to get any easier to stamp out if we let it swamp all the first-world hospitals, too.

Sense and Nonsense

I'm going to talk about this case that Instapundit mentions, about a transgender student who is now disqualified from serving in elected office because 'she's now a white male,' and we all know (and the student agrees!) that white males in power is a terrible thing.

The philosopher Wittgenstein was worried that a lot of things we say are nonsense. He meant something specific by that. Suppose I tell you: "I have parked my zonk in the garage." Now you might be thinking that you have almost understood what I said. If only you could learn what a zonk is, you'd have a complete picture of the sense of my sentence. But in fact, there is no such thing as a zonk (except the beloved military expression): my alleged sentence is nonsense.

The danger of nonsense is that I have confused your vision of the world. You now believe in something that doesn't exist. Possibly I will find you snooping around my garage later, attempting to locate this mysterious object that you believe exists, but which in fact does not and never has existed.

Wittgenstein extended this concept in a very famous argument called 'the private language argument.' Briefly, he suggests you imagine that you are having a feeling now that you've never had before. You decide to name it with a private word. Later, you have another feeling, and try to decide if you should call it by the same name. What standard is there to judge if the feeling is the same? Well, we can't really bring back the original feeling and compare it: as everyone knows (and as is a great blessing), remembering grief is wholly different from grieving. So all you have to go on is your own sense that the two things are the same: but that is just what you wanted to check. There is no objective standard against which you can test the sense you have right now that the two feelings are the same feeling. You therefore have no objective reason to say "I feel X," where X is the private name you gave to your original feeling.

So what do you do with the biological adult female who doesn't want to be called a woman, but instead wishes to be called by a male name and referred to with male pronouns? She says she is 'masculine of center,' but what's the objective standard for judging that? She has never experienced being a man. How is she going to check her experience objectively against the experience of being a man? How can she say it is the same experience? There's no objective standard.

There are three sensible ways of dealing with this.

1) We can follow Wittgenstein's general recommendation, and stick to what we can talk about objectively. Then, she is a woman, and that's that. However, we can still respect that she is a woman with unusual tastes and sensibilities and -- if we want to -- elect to respect her wish to be referred to as "him" instead of "her" and so forth. This is not done out of justice, if we are sticking to Wittgenstein's love of the objective, because nothing objective exists to convince of the validity of the claim. Rather, it is being done out of the milk of human kindness. We're doing it because we want her to feel more comfortable, and less stressed, and that's fine. We all know we're talking about a woman, but we agree to talk in the way this person prefers.

2) We can meet Wittgenstein halfway. We can sever sex and gender, as is very popular in the academy just now. Then there is an objective standard for the claim: what our student is saying is not that 'she is really a man,' but that of the observable behaviors typical of males and females, the male behaviors are more comfortable. Because we can all observe and compare them, these genders are objective. So the claim that 'this is a white male' is objective fact, although good luck getting him to father your children. So we have to keep these categories in mind, and never forget that sex really exists and gender really exists, and a person has one of the first and at least one of the second. And the reason to go to all this trouble is the same as the reason in (1), which is that we want to make this person more comfortable out of human sympathy.

3) We can accept the peril of speaking nonsense, and talk about things that we experience in non-objective ways. We do this all the time. Strictly speaking, Wittgenstein's private language argument ends up making nonsense out of all talk of emotions. After all, every emotion we experience is like this; and if we call it 'sadness' or 'joy' or by some private word isn't the real point. I have no way of knowing if the word you use that means 'joy' refers to the same emotion that I refer to by that name, no more than I can be sure that today's "joy" is really the same thing as last week's. All talk of emotions is nonsense.

Now I said something that ought to call that proposition into question. I said that we all know that experiencing grief is not like remembering it. That's not an objective claim, but it is one to which we will all assent. We can come up with a lot of these agreements: this thing I call 'grief' is the emotion I experienced after a damaging loss of a loved one; it seemed to strip meaning from the world; etc. We can't be perfectly sure that the experience was exactly the same, but we can talk around it a lot and discover that it is sort-of the same.

We have strong reasons, then, to think that many things Wittgenstein would have to classify as nonsense really are ontological facts. Grief exists. We might wish it didn't, but it does.

So we can say, on this model, that the claim that 'she is really a man' doesn't refer to anything objective, but to something immediate and subjective: perhaps the spirit. This commits us to a belief in the reality of the spirit, and furthermore to the idea that it carries a kind of sex: there are spirits of men and spirits of women. Even severed from a physical body, the spirit retains this essential quality. And that is a very ordinary way of speaking for Christians, who don't think their grandmother ceased to be a woman when she passed on to the realm of waiting for the Resurrection; certainly not that St. Mary did!

On this model, we are really accepting the claim of the transgendered person at face value. They really are in the wrong kind of body, somehow. But that's not so surprising: people are often born in bodies that are imperfect, and imperfectable. They are born blind, or without limbs, or in other similar ways. We don't believe that they are deformed essentially, not in spirit. Indeed it is a point of doctrine that their body will be perfected according to the nature of their spirit in the end times.


The choice of roads is up to you. I am not offering a prescription on this one, just a sketch of the philosophical problems it raises.

If you took the first road, you would never think of running a campaign against this student for 'being a white male.' On the first road, you'd be keenly aware that she was a woman, and the fiction that she was a male was being maintained merely out of human kindness. If the only reason to maintain the fiction is human kindness, it won't do to slap her around. The whole point was to make her feel better in your community.

If you take the second road, you might speak and even think that there is a real sense in which this is a white male: but it is a sense separate from sex. Thus, there are no reasons to be concerned that 'a white male' in the sexual sense would be being elected. You have failed to maintain clarity about your categories. This is a male only in the gender sense, not at all in the sexual sense. If you are a sexist who believes sexual-males should not hold power, be at ease. I would be willing to wager heavily that this gender-male does not hold three values that I do, and is apparently the first one to line up and agree that people like me shouldn't hold power. We're dangerous and scary. (True facts, actually! From where I sit that's just why we're the right ones to elect to exercise certain kinds of power. Separate conversation.)

Only if you take the third road is this really a man, in the same sense that I am a man: essentially. If you take that road, you are committing to an ontology that includes the spiritual. Good if you do, but beware: there are many consequences that follow from that choice.

Ramps to nowhere

What better way to induce the economy to misallocate resources than to use federal dollars and/or regulations to bribe and/or extort people to do crazy things?
This summer, Detroit spent tens of thousands of dollars replacing sidewalk wheelchair ramps in little traveled areas.
The bankrupt city put in ramps, costing about $10,000 per intersection, along crumbling sidewalks along Warren near Conner. In one half-mile stretch, from St. Jean to Cadillac, there are 52 new sets of ramps.
Some face brick walls. Others provide access to an empty lot where Helen Joy Middle School stood until it was razed in 2009. On many corners, sidewalks end after the ramps.
"You drive down some of these streets and there are blocks of no houses, but pretty new curbs," said Sherman Hayes, 84, a retired nurse who lives nearby on Lakewood Street. "Look at all these ramps to nowhere. It makes my blood boil."
Detroit officials say they have no choice. The work is the latest in a decade-long, court-imposed effort to force Detroit into compliance with federal handicapped accessible laws.
The whole city of Detroit should become a museum exhibit. It reminds me of the old joke about the service evaluation: "His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity."

One size doesn't fit all

Here's what I think we're missing about how vigilant we need to be about Ebola contagion:  the low level of common-sense concern that's appropriate early in the disease is a world away from the fanatical measures that are absolutely necessary late in the disease.  This, for instance, is insane:
Two schools in the Solon School District in suburban Cleveland are closed Thursday as a precaution because a staffer "traveled home from Dallas on Frontier Airlines Tuesday on a different flight, but perhaps the same aircraft," as [Dallas Ebola nurse No. 2] Vinson . . . .
That's a tremendous over-reaction.  In contrast, we're under-reacting to patients when they get wildly contagious:  Texas Health Presbyterian workers who dealt closely with Patient Zero in last day or two of his life probably shouldn't have touched any other patients until they'd burned their clothing and submerged themselves in pure bleach for an hour. I'm not sure they shouldn't dust off and nuke the site from orbit; it's the only way to be sure. I kid, I kid, the hospital probably doesn't need to be decommissioned, but failing that, at least they should have implemented Level 4 precautions, which have proven their efficacy at Emory and elsewhere.  Instead, it took a doctor a couple of days to muse mildly in some medical charts that they might want to consider wearing disposable shoe covers rather than track contamination all over the hospital.  I imagine they're trying to clean the whole hospital up now, but it's not where I would choose to be admitted just now, frankly.  So I was very encouraged to hear that the second infected Dallas nurse has been transferred to Emory.  Now we just have to wait and see who else was infected in Dallas.  More nurses?  Other patients?  The pizza delivery guy?

If public officials are hoping that there's a single workable protocol for dealing with a potential Ebola patient that can be implemented on the first day suspicion arises and maintained unchanged until the patient either recovers or is interred, they need to rethink their strategies.  A difficult and expensive fanatical level of care is both feasible and non-negotiable for very small numbers of patients during brief, critical periods.  It's neither necessary nor feasible for the general public on a permanent basis.  On the other hand, we're going to have to exercise a minimum of ordinary care on a permanent basis--including appropriate quarantine for high-risk travelers--if we don't want to have to exercise the fanatical level of care for more people than even a rich country can handle at one time.  If we keep out ahead of this disease, it will be a blip on the radar.  If we let it get out ahead of us, we're going to do some serious damage.  Do I feel personally at risk?  No, I can't say I do, but that doesn't mean this is anything to be criminally negligent about.  Panic is serious business, and we seem to be doing our level best to induce a fairly well-justified one.

This really doesn't look good

Ace has up a handful of new posts about the steady trickle of disquieting Ebola reports. HotAir has others. For instance, are you thrilled to hear that high-risk tissue samples were sent through the Dallas hospital's pneumatic tube delivery system? Or that nurses who treated Patient Zero also went on to treat other patients at the hospital rather than working in strict isolation?

I'm inclined to cut the bumbling expert bureaucrats some slack on certain issues, such as the continuing confusion over when and how intensely contagious Ebola sufferers are. The answer seems to be that they're not noticeably infectious at all early on, then they become moderately infectious when they develop symptoms, though only if there is considerable direct contact with body fluids. Finally, they become crazily off-the-charts infectious when they reach the crisis stage: so infectious, at that point, that Level 2 biocontainment protocols apparently are ridiculously inadequate and only Level 4 protocols (such as those used at Emory Hospital in Atlanta) will do. This means that the CDC probably is not nuts to advise us that there is quite limited risk to riding on an aircraft with someone who is infected but not yet showing symptoms, perhaps even someone, like Dallas nurse No. 2, who's knows she's been exposed and is running a low-grade fever but for some reason nevertheless decides to hop on a plane, because, hey, it's not like she's a health professional who should know better. But it also means that the CDC's "we got this" attitude is less than reassuring when it comes to the likelihood that your regular corner hospital is prepared to deal safely with a full-on blowout crisis-stage Ebola case.  On that subject, the record is not looking so great so far.

For every news article that tempts us to think everyone's getting hysterical, there's another that suggests we're not taking some risks seriously enough. Ebola is a manageable disease in very small numbers in highly qualified clinical settings. If we adopt slapdash procedures in enough hospitals, we may quickly find that the outbreak becomes very, very difficult to contain.

Meantime, all is well: the President has cancelled a fundraising trip so he can get all over this.

Fusion at the Skunk Works

Stories about workable fusion reactors are a dime a dozen, but this one actually seems to be on the level, though--obviously--preliminary.

Chemical Weapons in Iraq

This is a pretty substantial piece on chemical weapons encountered by US forces in Iraq. There are a number of charges that 'the military' hid or suppressed evidence, including from Congress. For some reason, they decided to print the location of a set of bunkers filled with such weapons by American and Iraqi forces that is now controlled by ISIS.
Iraq took initial steps to fulfill its obligations. It drafted a plan to entomb the contaminated bunkers on Al Muthanna, which still held remnant chemical stocks, in concrete.

When three journalists from The Times visited Al Muthanna in 2013, a knot of Iraqi police officers and soldiers guarded the entrance. Two contaminated bunkers — one containing cyanide precursors and old sarin rockets — loomed behind. The area where Marines had found mustard shells in 2008 was out of sight, shielded by scrub and shimmering heat.

The Iraqi troops who stood at that entrance are no longer there. The compound, never entombed, is now controlled by the Islamic State.
In another era, I'd have hoped that they intentionally misdirected ISIS' efforts by printing a piece of US military deception (MILDEC) that might lead to misdirected resources or wasted time by anyone in ISIS interested in recovering chemical weapons. I wonder if the Times would do that now, or if they'd think to ask for one.

UPDATE: Mr. Wolf at BLACKFIVE has a piece on the subject.

Some Criticisms

One of the lessons I've learned in my long and valued correspondence with Cassandra is that men must sometimes criticize women on moral grounds. To refuse is to refuse to take women seriously as moral actors. I generally still avoid it as much as possible, but today I am going to make a very rare exception and do just that.

The occasion is Hanna Rosin's article called "Abortion is Great." Abortion is the intentional destruction of an innocent human life. There are cases, such as when it is absolutely necessary to save the life of the mother and the child is too young to be capable of survival, when it is not morally problematic to kill such an innocent human life. It is nearly morally obligatory in that particular example, though I think one can accept the choice of a mother who prefers not to even though it means her life.

There are also cases where the mother or the child might live, as perhaps in the case of chemotherapy, and someone must choose. This case is highly morally problematic, as any case when you are choosing who shall live and who shall die, but it is a case on which honorable people might disagree. I will say that a woman who elects to run the risk herself, to save her child, is someone whom I respect to the uttermost degree. Motherhood itself is honorable because it necessarily entails significant sacrifice, but it is never more honorable than that. Yet I do not see how any law could compel her to make the choice.

In our last discussion on the topic, though, we saw evidence that these cases are a tiny fraction of the statistics. Risk of maternal life accounted for 0.1% of reasons given; risk to maternal health at any level, one percent. This is not what we are generally talking about when we talk about American abortions. We are talking about elective abortions.

And that is what Rosin has come to defend. "They are not generally victims of rape or incest, or in any pitiable situation from which they need to be rescued. They are making a reasonable and even admirable decision that they can’t raise a child at the moment. Is that so hard to say? As Pollitt puts it, 'This is not the right time for me' should be reason enough. And saying that aloud would help push back against the lingering notion that it’s unnatural for a woman to choose herself over others."

That is wrong. 'This is not the right time for me' is not even a fully satisfactory reason to cancel your dentist appointment. After all, your dentist has set aside time for you to show up then, and has thus not taken on other business. Your 'choosing yourself over others' is not without cost to the others: indeed, some medical practitioners have found it necessary to introduce cancellation fees in order to recoup some of the lost income.

Nor is the argument that 'men aren't doing this' persuasive, since in fact men are held to the standard she denies we hold: if a man sires a child, not only I but the law will hold him to supporting it for eighteen years at least. That is what we believe, and what we will enforce with our courts if we can.

The cost it imposes upon the reckless young parent is already a debt they owe their child. The cost they would be imposing on the child by electing to kill instead is the child's whole life.

I am not surprised at the way the culture has turned on this issue. The very frequency of the practice makes it difficult to criticize, and tempting to celebrate. Rosin cites a source that says that thirty percent of American women have an abortion (almost all elective); my source says forty percent. The percentages are large enough that there must be tremendous social pressure to say that it is OK, that it's fine, that it's understandable: Rosin goes so far as to say that it is "admirable."

It is not. If you choose to kill an innocent human being out of preference for some personal advantage, you are doing a great moral wrong. If you choose to kill an innocent human being to give advantages to others -- perhaps other children of yours -- you are still wrong, because it is not necessary in America to kill any one of your children in order to ensure the others have a reasonable chance at success. In either case, you are doing wrong and it will not be possible to fully respect you until you admit it to yourself and try to reform your heart.

If you are arguing that it is admirable to do these things, you are doing evil.

Can we still bring ourselves, Americans, to criticize so large a percentage of our population? I wonder. Another case that brings it to my mind is today's announcement by her lawyer that the artist who bills herself as Ke$ha is suing her producer. No one probably doubts her story. Her lawyer said, "The facts presented in our lawsuit paint a picture of a man who is controlling and willing to commit horrible acts of abuse in an attempt to intimidate an impressionable, talented, young female artist into submission for his personal gain."

I've already seen adequate evidence to believe that. I've had occasion to see two of her videos.

That's not a joke: I would never laugh about such a thing. The most "harrowing" charge, according to the article is that after a night of partying and some sort of pills he gave her, she "woke up the following afternoon, naked in Dr. Luke's bed, sore and sick, with no memory of how she got there."

The first video I saw from this pair started with her being depicted as waking up in a bathtub, and then shortly thereafter proclaiming that she was going to 'brush her teeth with a bottle of Jack' before heading back out for another all-night party. I saw the second one a few years later, and remember that the chorus went something like, "Let's have a night we don't remember."

So I already believe, based on his artistic output, that he's a man whose character and values are despicable and who is willing to use not just the one woman, but millions of others, for his personal gain. He's willing to sell them a vision of the good life that is poisonous, and he was willing to use one particular woman to craft it and pitch it to them. Our culture is worse because of his work.

But how can I criticize him without criticizing her? If I say that the work is poison, what do I say about its chief saleswoman?

Nothing, apparently: read the comments at the Billboard article, and you will see that any criticism is off limits. We have developed a whole vocabulary to explain our objections to criticizing her here. But if he is damnable for having sold this to thousands of young people, if the reason to believe her lies partly in the fact that she is only accusing him of living up to his own frequently-portrayed values, what must we say of her?

Cassandra was right, and not only about me. Our society has gone a long way toward refusing to take women seriously as moral actors by protecting them from criticism. Indeed, we have built a culture that insists on celebrating them even when they are wrong. That does not create respect, but mockery.

Can We Get A Similar Waiver for US Citizens?

Volunteers are willing to go, but getting through the legal red tape on our side of the Atlantic is proving daunting.

UPDATE: Related.

Reliable, renewable power

Or maybe not.

Whether Marriage is of Natural Law?

There's a certain amount of talking-past-each-other between secular legal scholars and Christian thinkers on the subject of whether marriage is a natural law concept, or only a positive law concept. The secular scholars don't actually understand the natural law argument, I think; the Christian thinkers don't know how to explain it to them, and think that referring to "nature" in an unsophisticated way will fix the problem.

Fortunately, the very question was treated in the supplemental to Summa Theologicae III, so with a little care we can see what the Thomists thought was the right answer. It's a subtle point, and a problematic one, as we'll see.

Dr. Althouse's objection is actually the very first objection the Summa treats. She puts it this way:
It's not as though marriage exists in nature. Marriage is an "arbitrary boundary created by man." The only boundary in nature is between having sex or not. Nature puts up no boundaries about when or with who (or what) any given animal has sex. Nonprocreativity doesn't set up a boundary.
That's not right, the scholastics argued, because "nature" means more than one thing. You only come to that error by equivocating between the meanings.
Man's nature inclines to a thing in two ways. In one way, because that thing is becoming to the generic nature, and this is common to all animals; in another way because it is becoming to the nature of the difference, whereby the human species in so far as it is rational overflows the genus; such is an act of prudence or temperance. And just as the generic nature, though one in all animals, yet is not in all in the same way, so neither does it incline in the same way in all, but in a way befitting each one. Accordingly man's nature inclines to matrimony on the part of the difference, as regards the second reason given above; wherefore the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 11,12; Polit. i) gives this reason in men over other animals; but as regards the first reason it inclines on the part of the genus; wherefore he says that the begetting of offspring is common to all animals. Yet nature does not incline thereto in the same way in all animals; since there are animals whose offspring are able to seek food immediately after birth, or are sufficiently fed by their mother; and in these there is no tie between male and female; whereas in those whose offspring needs the support of both parents, although for a short time, there is a certain tie, as may be seen in certain birds. In man, however, since the child needs the parents' care for a long time, there is a very great tie between male and female, to which tie even the generic nature inclines.
The language is a little archaic even in translation, but it can be simplified. "Nature" isn't a simple synonym for "bestial," and making human beings more like beasts was certainly never the Church's point.

Now, there are some ways in which human beings are like other animals, so that (for example) it would be a violation of natural law to pass a law requiring people to forgo food or water. But there are other ways in which human beings are different from other animals, especially in that we naturally have a larger access to reason. One of the things we can reason about is the fact that, also by our nature, male and female produce a child who requires a long upbringing and education. Thus, we can reason that the perfection of our sexual nature is in the successful rearing of the child, which requires a strong union between the parents. This is the institution of marriage, which is therefore of human nature.

If you want another institution that points to a different need, that's fine: humans are also political by nature (a point made in the same article). As we've discussed before, Aristotelian friendship looks a lot like what 'same-sex marriage' advocates really want: unity of property and concern between (usually) two people, to pursue each other's good in a sort of loving friendship. That could have a sexual component or not -- certainly the Greeks would not have been troubled if it did.

It's distinct from the natural law marriage, though, which comes from this reality about how we produce offspring, and what the needs of those offspring are.

There are two points worth thinking about, though:

1) I think the sed contra is confusing on this point: "Further, the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 12) says that "man is an animal more inclined by nature to connubial than political society." But "man is naturally a political and gregarious animal," as the same author asserts (Polit. i, 2). Therefore he is naturally inclined to connubial union, and thus the conjugal union or matrimony is natural."

Aristotle clearly thinks that the political union is the more natural because it is only in a political union that human beings can fully achieve their rational potential. So the point being made here is not that marriage is more natural than politics, but only that it is natural since we are inclined to it even more than we (naturally) are to politics.

2) The family nevertheless has a kind of independent status under this reading. It's pre-political. It is (Politics I) different in kind from the state, and Aristotle rejects Plato's idea from the Republic that families should be structured by the state for its own purposes. It's one thing that the political should not intrude upon. Aristotle's clear assumption is that the political union is made up of pre-existing families. These families can unify in friendship in other ways too, as for example in a unity of the sort described above as "Aristotelian friendship." In terms of politics, though, the role of politics is to provide a kind of security among non-family members. It's assumed that you will treat your own kin with favoritism, and in order for a political union to be stable that tendency has to be resisted. So, for example, a single family should not dominate the leadership of a country or a political faction: but of course a father will care more about his son than a stranger.

Where our current debate is most dangerous, it strikes me, is in destroying that natural independence of the family and bringing everything under the rule of the state. That's the gravest danger in this debate: not that some men will go off and do whatever they were going to do anyway, somewhat more easily than before, but that the natural love of parents and children shall be ever more tightly bound by the intrusion of the political and the state. That was Plato's ideal for his guardians, but it is an impossibly tyrannical scheme. Just because it is such a violation of human nature, no state could pursue it and remain legitimate.

That is what must be resisted above all.

Bit O' Rain This Morning

Don't do rock music much here at the Hall, but I'll make an exception this morning.

NY fires a teacher

Clearly a rush to judgment.

NYT insults the Middle Ages

Tell me again what's wrong with a quarantine? Not an inflexible travel ban, just a hold on incoming traffic while we either run a rapid-turnaround PCR test, or hold travelers for 21 days to see if they develop symptoms. I know it could get expensive, but compared to what?

Comparative linguistics

From Gerard Vanderleun:
An MIT linguistics professor was lecturing his class the other day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. … But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.” A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

That's some low

Check out the wind map.  It looks like a hurricane over Oklahoma City.

After the front passes through this evening, we're supposed to get 3-4 days of lovely, cool weather.  Time to get out and attack some weeds that are as tall as I am.

We're on an all-eggplant, all the time diet this week, even after driving around and handing out bags of eggplants to our neighbors.  Eggplant is one of the few crops, besides peppers, that do well here in the dog days of summer.

Poverty in America

Twenty-nine myths about it, and some fact-checking.