“Abortion: From Controversy to Civility”

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Sisters of Life

In today’s world, choosing to become a nun obviously takes strong conviction. Choosing to become an orthodox, habit-wearing nun takes something more — that perhaps comes with the passion of youth.

At the age of 29 — young for a nun in modern times — Sister John Mary committed herself to lifelong vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. The habit that she wears, sews and washes herself is a sign of her commitment in what she calls today’s “post-Christian culture.”

“As our culture seeks to exclude God, we are attracted by a radical response to God,” said Sister John Mary.

“It’s very counter-cultural, but there’s a great joy and freedom in the vows that we take in poverty, chastity and obedience. And it’s kind of the opposite of what our culture offers.”

The Sisters of Life is one of the few highly orthodox orders of nuns that are seeing rapid growth in an era when religious life is otherwise declining in North America. Their growth is in part a response to an increasingly secular society as fewer people — especially young people — attend regular religious service or describe themselves as religious.

Rise of the radical nuns

Sisters of Life

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Temperance

“Temperance” commonly is understood in a narrow sense as referring only to abstention from alcohol. But it has a classical meaning that takes in far more.

Aristotle understood that. “The temperate man desires the right things in the right way and at the right time,” he wrote. That may indeed involve swearing off some good thing, either temporarily or permanently, but more often it will mean using good things, but in a way that’s reasonable and suited to their purposes.

At first one might think this was so obvious that it hardly needs stating. But apparently that isn’t so for large sectors of American society today. Granted the exceptions, ours on the whole is a very wealthy country where pampered self-indulgence is not only accepted but held up as an ideal.

Doubt that? Then spend a little time watching TV commercials, with their unabashed appeals to easy, instantaneous gratification, whether by drinking beer or driving a luxury automobile. Pope St. John Paul II called this state of mind and soul “superdevelopment” and said that in its own way it was “as harmful as excessive poverty.” Whatever you call it, it’s the mortal foe of temperance.

Intemperance is typical of children and of adults with childish temperaments. That suggests that acquiring temperance is a matter of formation, a part of growing up. And that means temperance and the behaviors associated with it can and should be taught. Teaching temperance is a central task of formation agents who include parents, churches, schools, and the media.

And there’s the rub. There is money—big money—to be made by exploiting intemperance, and the formation agents of American popular culture seem bent on making it. Find a way to change that, and we will have taken a giant step toward solving the national crisis of addiction.

America’s opioid crisis says a lot about how we are forming our people

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High School and College Admissions and DECA

One thing that jumps out of the IHE article is that this proposal is a creature of elite prep schools. Most American high schools have, at most, a handful of students who are realistically competitive at elite universities, but elite prep schools aspire to place a substantial fraction of their students there. Alas, that college admissions offices expect to see grades puts elite high schools in the embarrassing situation of implicitly comparing their students to one another.

. . .

From 1898 to 1919, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton opened up their admissions requirements by adopting the College Entrance Exam Board and abandoning a Greek-language requirement. These reforms made admission more open to non-elite boys, who as a rule were unable to take the schools’ proprietary entrance exams and attended high schools that did not offer Greek. As a result, the Ivies saw a sizable increase in Jewish students, and Columbia even experienced WASP flight, which its peers dreaded. Although Harvard discussed an explicit Jewish quota in 1922, this proved unpalatable, and so between 1922 and 1926 the big three Ivies adopted admissions boards that gave a heavy emphasis to qualitative evidence of “character” (read: WASP culture emphasizing muscular Christianity, club membership, and athletics over book learning) as a pretext to limit Jews.

Decades later, the University of California system, within which both Karabel and I are sociologists, adopted a similar policy to ensure racial balance. Traditionally, about half of the UC class was admitted by a GPA and SAT formula. The beginning of the end of this policy came in 1995 and 1996, when a Board of Regents vote and ballot initiative barred the use of affirmative action at the University of California, without which the flagship campuses of the university admitted notably fewer blacks and Latinos and notably more Asians and “decline to state” as freshmen. (White students were stable.) In response, between 1998 and 2001, the university switched to a system of comprehensive review greatly emphasizing qualitative evidence of character, and this had the desired effect of bringing the undergraduate body a bit closer to the state’s overall ethnic composition.

Basing college admission on well-roundedness and character is both noisy and cumbersome. Anyone who regularly writes letters of recommendation knows that they consume an enormous amount of time to write, and anyone who regularly reads them knows that they typically convey minimal actual information, largely because by convention they are almost never negative. Admissions essays at the undergraduate level are even worse, serving primarily to demonstrate the insatiability of credulous admissions officers for bromides.

However, the time consumed by writing and reading the materials in the admissions packet is dwarfed by the effort that goes into shaping lives to fit them. One of the biggest impacts of the demand for well-roundedness is that making a well-rounded child is an enormous drain of time for families. Garey and Valerie Ramey’s NBER/Brookings paper “The Rug Rat Race” (72-page PDF) suggests that our culture of intensive parenting is driven by competition for college admissions. They find a pronounced rise in time spent on child rearing since the mid 1990s concentrated among college-educated parents. Tellingly, the pattern does not hold in Canada, which has a less hierarchical college system. Nor does the pattern apply to underrepresented minorities, whom colleges already seek and who experience diminishing marginal returns to résumé-polishing. To treat time spent raising kids as a problem sounds heartless, but when the increased time consists of chauffeuring kids from activity to activity or “helping” them with projects, this is a brutal war of attrition against rivals to the meritocratic elite, not quality family time. In the long run, this may lead not only to endless stress for parents and kids alike, but also to lower fertility, since if you make something more costly, you get less of it.

The sick irony is that giving great weight to well-roundedness and character is seen as egalitarian. Test prep serves the role of Satan in the theodicy of meritocracy, a ready explanation for the association between test scores and social class of origin. What this myth overlooks is that most scholarly studies of test prep estimate that it raises SAT scores by a piddling couple dozen points out of 1600. Nonetheless, our suspicion of the SAT’s well-known association with household income provides an egalitarian rationale for the regressive turn to all variety of precocious “achievement” as the basis of college admissions, as if test scores could be bought but résumé-padding could not.

. . .

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a plutocratic elite preening to college admissions officers about how sophisticated and nuanced it is, forever.

Elite High Schools Plot to Undermine College Admissions

For an alternative, see DECA:

– “Owning Their Future: The Joy of DECA, Part I

– “Inspiration in a Blue Blazer: The Joy of DECA, Part II

It is interesting to observe the moral preening among parents as they attempt to get their children into the “best” schools.

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Retail Jobs, First Jobs

One in ten employed Americans works in retail. Those jobs are going away.

. . .

Heritage Park Mall is a tomb, a crumbling and boarded-up monument to a particular weird moment in American history when we did that most American of all things: attempt to perfect a community by rebuilding it from scratch. With its shops and restaurants and public spaces, and its proximity to banks and offices, the American shopping mall was the reincarnation of the downtown business district, moved indoors where it could be air-conditioned, efficiently policed, and surrounded by a sprawling Salton Sea of asphalt to provide ample parking. The old downtown died most places, and, now, the new downtown is dying, too: At the highwater mark, there were about 5,000 malls in the United States, and there are now 1,100, at least 400 of which are expected to close in the next few years. In the 1980s, developers built an average of 60 malls a year — and more than 100 in some years. Now, cities from San Bernardino, Calif., to High Point, N.C., are dealing with the husks of these dead retail behemoths.

. . .

A dead mall is a problem. It’s a blight and an eyesore, for one thing. Heritage Park is boarded up, and sometimes the grass is allowed to get a little tall. There are financial problems as well: Heritage Park Mall used to produce more than $1 million a year in revenue for Midwest City; what little commerce still exists on the property (there’s a Pelican’s Wharf restaurant detached from the mall proper but on the lot) produces about $70,000 a year. That’s a big hit: Sixty-five percent of the ad valorem taxes generated by the property had been earmarked for the schools. And while the mall isn’t producing much revenue, the city still has to police it and protect it against fires. (Fire marshals tend to take an especial interest in boarded-up, abandoned buildings with large, open interior spaces.) Replacing those lost tax funds has not been easy: In a sprawling metro area such as Oklahoma City, there’s a new municipality every couple of miles in the exurban stretches, meaning that businesses that left the mall but set up shop elsewhere often did not do so within the boundaries of Midwest City, which is festooned with a lot of signs offering residents the advice (economically illiterate but popular) that they should “buy local.”

The more common sign says For Lease.

Because the thing is, it isn’t just the mall. Heritage Park is bounded on three sides by commercial properties with a lot of vacancies. The shopping center to the north is between a quarter and a third vacant, and the tenants in the occupied spaces — Ron’s Burgers and Chili, New York Nails, an animal hospital, People’s Church and its nearby PC Kids center, a physical therapist, Hearing Aid Center, Midway Clinic, Rupert Thomas OB/GYN, a tanning salon, and an Edward Jones — all have something in common: They are in businesses that require physical presence. (Yeah, you can trade stocks online, but that isn’t exactly what Edward Jones does.) Amazon is in all sorts of businesses, but it is not yet offering to watch your kids or minister to your labradoodle or your reproductive plumbing or your immortal soul. On the other side of the mall, there’s a blood-plasma donation center two doors down from an Arby’s — if you are in search of the Eliotic objective correlative for despair, there it is. The shops that are thriving are like the jobs that are thriving: They are difficult to outsource.

And shops and jobs go together: One in ten employed Americans works in retail. Retail salesman is the single most common job in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while much has been made of the decline in old-line industrial jobs that carry a certain nostalgic charge, there are 17 times as many retail jobs as jobs in automobile manufacturing, 100 times as many retail jobs as steel jobs, and 210 times as many Americans working in retail as in coal mining — not just miners, but all coal-mining jobs, from CEO on down. Shop jobs mostly are not especially high-paying (though they sometimes are), and they tend to be held by workers who for various reasons — sometimes lack of skill and education, but also things such as the need for flexible scheduling or physical limitations — often do not have a great many desirable options. People sometimes scoff: “Yeah, creative destruction is great — we’ll just tell all those unemployed steelworkers to become software designers!” But the fact is that steel mills and mines and factories employ a great many highly educated and highly skilled people, from engineers to machinists, and they are a lot more likely to be able to find good new jobs than is the 48-year-old mother of three who works four days a week at the local Sears. That job may not provide enough to support a family of five, but it may very well pay enough to take care of the mortgage and the electricity bill — for two-income families, those modestly paid retail jobs aren’t about pin money.

Those jobs are going away.

. . .

And what about the people who used to work in all those stores?

The first job of Oklahoma City’s Heather Boulware was at a TG&Y, which middle-aged residents of the southern half of the United States may recall as “Toys, Guns, and Yo-Yos.” It was what our grandparents would have called a general store. “It was like a Super Walmart without the groceries,” she says. She started working there when she was 15 years old. Hers was a common experience: She was earning a little money — “a whopping $3.35 an hour” — which she invested in the things kids invest their money in: “I got paid every two weeks, and I’d buy books and go out with my friends. Some of it, I saved up for Christmas presents for my family.” TG&Y offered its employees a discount, and another benefit that made Boulware the heroine of Christmas morning: “I worked there the Christmas that Cabbage Patch dolls were huge. We got a shipment, and they let me hold one back for my little sister.” Now that she is an adult with children of her own, she understands that what she was actually investing in was learning how to have a job. “I had to be accountable,” she says. “I had hours, had to be there on time, had to be clean and dressed appropriately. And I had to interact with people in a way I hadn’t before: In a job like that, you have to answer questions, and if someone is kind of mean to you or critical, you can’t stomp off and cry. I wasn’t a kid at work — I was an employee.”

But there are fewer opportunities like that today, and there will be even fewer in the near future.

. . .

It often has been observed that the real value of a first job is not the money earned in that job: The real value of the first job is that it leads to the second job, and the third.

. . .

But the decline of retail will mean fewer stores and fewer starting jobs at those stores, constricting the path from unskilled hourly worker to richly remunerated manager. Fewer people will have the opportunity to learn and to demonstrate those basic elements of personal accountability — keeping a schedule, making peace with difficult customers — that Heather Boulware spoke about.

Those dead malls are a visible testament to what the decline of retail means to American communities: blight, lost taxes, public nuisances. But there is an invisible testament, too: It is not so much a matter of jobs lost in the present but of jobs that never come into being in the future. What all those teenagers and low-skilled workers need isn’t a $15 minimum wage but a foothold, a way to enter what is after all the world’s most productive economy and begin the process of advancement. For the kids headed to Stanford and Silicon Valley and Wall Street, the way ahead is, for the moment, fairly clear. For the dead-average 17-year-old who intends to — maybe has to — move out of his parents’ house next year and into a life of self-sufficiency, who not long ago might have gone down to the local Sears or Circuit City or hardware store and started a new job 24 hours after asking for it? That way is less clear./blockquote>

American Retail’s Fast, Furious Decline

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Richard Overton, WWII Veteran

Memorial Day, 2017

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Trump as Mr. Magoo

I’ve been writing about Chesterton’s fence for years. For those of you who don’t remember because they lost most of their memory after waking up in that dumpster handcuffed to a horse’s severed leg (or for some other reason), here’s the relevant passage:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

I reference Chesterton’s fence all the time, usually in the context of progressives who are imbued with the fierce arrogance of now. They have special contempt for tradition, custom, etc.

And that is basically the context Chesterton had in mind. But I think there’s a lesson here for Trump as well. Trump’s glandular approach to every situation is a kind of lizard-brain version of progressivism. Tell Trump he can’t do or say something and he almost instinctively does it or says it. It’s like there’s a homunculus in there screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!” 24/7. His fans love this blunderbuss approach. And whenever you criticize it, the immediate response is some version of “It got him elected!”

And it’s true: Trump has been an improviser in the grand tradition of underachievers his whole life. His entire, spectacular, run to the White House was like a running spontaneous jazz performance. And he hasn’t stopped improvising. The problem is that the White House and Washington in general are a vast maze of what might be called Chesterton’s Invisi-Fences. Unlike the original Chesterton fence, these fences cannot be seen, but they exist all the same. Some of them, of course, should probably be gotten rid of — but, again, you have to know why they’re there before you try.

. . .

Liberals are still convinced Trump is some kind of autocrat-in-waiting. And he may well be in his heart. But the would-be autocrats who actually become real-life autocrats only achieve success because they are popular and know how to manipulate the system from within — and because they did their homework. That’s not Trump. Yes, he’s violating democratic and political norms, but he’s not doing it according to some master plan like an Erdogan or a Putin, he’s doing it more like a weird hybrid of Mr. Magoo and Chauncey Gardiner.

Anything Goes in Our New Bro Age

Ozymandias

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5 Reasons Satan loves pornography

Each year in my Christianity and Mass Media class at Benedictine College, we cover pornography — the 21st-century mass media juggernaut.

And each year the pornography problem grows worse. The latest: The two most popular online video streaming services are featuring pornography-friendly marquee programs — a documentary and a biopic.

. . .

Pornography militates against freedom. The science of it is well known: The human brain, when aroused by erotic images, dumps chemicals into the bloodstream that push the throttle of the viewer to full-speed “give me more” mode. Idle online curiosity quickly becomes addictive obsession.

Dabbling with pornography is like opening the window of a pressurized airplane at a high altitude. It pulls you in and spits you out.

The same thing happens to women involved in the pornography industry. Women seeking modeling careers, or a brief injection of cash in tough times, quickly find themselves in the clutches of a degrading industry, with images of themselves that they regret circulating forever online.

A recent pornography scam is not unlike what happens anyway to “legitimate” pornographic actresses: Lured by money, they find themselves in the clutches of men who only want to use them.

. . .

Using pornography churns a vortex of sin that Satan uses to drag whole groups of people — performers, programmers, sellers, and unsuspecting bystanders — down to his lair.

. . .

When the apostles argue who is the greatest in the 18th Chapter of Matthew, Jesus places a child in their midst. Then, a few verses later, he adds that anyone who causes a child to sin would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck.

The demons have already chosen the millstone. Now they want to cause as many children to sin as possible.

Along with abortion, history will condemn our times most, I think, for our refusal to protect children from pornography. Even a notorious male pornographic actor is disgusted at how children experience pornography.

The reason for our failure here is obvious: Adults want easy, anonymous access to pornography. We care more about protecting that access than we do about protecting our kids.

5 Reasons Satan loves pornography

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A NY Example of DC Corruption and Cronyism

You sometimes hear of a Congressman who raises more money from New York state, or from the D.C. region than he raises from his home state, reflecting perhaps that he’s out of touch with the place he’s supposed to represent.

Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY), though, represents a district in the Empire State, which makes it more amazing that he’s raised more money so far this cycle from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia than he has raised from New York.

. . .

Collins’ ties to the drug industry are a lot more intimate than that, though. He is a very wealthy businessman (subsidies from the Export-Import Bank have helped), and recently his net worth got a boost thanks to a pharmaceutical stock in his portfolio, in an episode that highlights Collins’ tendency to blend policymaking, fundraising, and investing.

Collins is the No. 1 shareholder in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian drugmaker. The Daily Beast reported that Collins has been close to the company since 2005 and joined the board in 2006.

Collins also played a major role in shaping the 21st Century Cures Act. According to various news reports, Collins inserted a provision into the late-2016 legislation that allowed a fast-track approval process for investigational drugs. This provision boosted Innate’s stock by helping bring Innate’s sole product, a Multiple Sclerosis drug called MIS416, to market more quickly.

Collins just happened to have bought up about a million dollars in Innate stock in August 2016, as the 21st Century Cures Act wended its way through Congress. This purchase was part of a special stock offering — a VIP opportunity into which Collins brought some friends. “Sixteen people with close ties to Collins bought Innate shares at discounted prices of $0.18 or $0.26 cents per share,” the Daily Beast reported in April. “Those investors have given nearly $42,000 to Collins’s political campaigns over the years, a review of campaign finance records found.”

This brings us back to his donor list.

. . .

Collins’ friends who bought discounted stock in 2016 would have paid around 25 or 34 cents per share, according to the New York Times. Shortly after the bill became law, the price skyrocketed, eventually to $1.77 per share in January. Shortly before that peak is when reporters overheard Collins talking on the phone saying, “Do you know how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months?”

Being a donor or friend of Chris Collins pays off.

Chris Collins, self-proclaimed millionaire-maker, wades into another drug lobby fight

Revolving Door Tax, Crony Capitalism, Ozymandias

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“Science” and Power

The Indiana Jones heuristic — the search for fact is science, the search for Truth is philosophy — can go only so far in finessing the inherent conflict between science, which is organized around assumptions of objectivity, and the poisonous identity politics holding as its fundamental principle that everything is subjective.

. . .

But if it were really about science, we’d be hearing more from scientists and less from people who have batty, superstitious attitudes about modern agriculture and evidence-based medicine. You will not hear Democrats complaining about the fact that the Affordable Care Act clears the way for subsidizing such hokum as acupuncture and homeopathy. Seventh-day Adventists may make some claims about the world that sound ridiculous from the scientific point of view, but so do practitioners of yoga and sweat-lodge enthusiasts. The public adoration of Science isn’t about science.

. . .

The postmodernists were correct in one thing: There is some politics built into the scientific method, in that the scientific method assumes an environment in which people are at liberty to speak, debate, and publish — a liberty with which the American Left, particularly on college campuses, is at war. They are not interested in debate or conversation. They are interested in silencing those who disagree with them, and they have high-profile allies: Democratic prosecutors around the country are working to criminalize the holding of nonconformist views about global warming (some prominent activists have openly called for jailing “climate deniers”), and Howard Dean has taken up the novel argument that the First Amendment does not actually protect political speech with which he disagrees. (It is, he insists, “hate speech,” a legally null term in the American context.) Dean has argued that the federal laws governing the conduct of political campaigns could and should be used to regulate all public speaking.

The partisans of Science believe themselves to be part of an eternal war between Galileo and the Inquisition, but they have in fact chosen the Inquisition’s side. They have chosen the side of the Censor and the Index — so long as they get to choose who serves as Censor and who manages the Index. That is how they have reconciled Science and its claims of objective fact with identity politics and its denial of the same: They are engaged in neither the pursuit of fact nor the pursuit of Truth — only the pursuit of Power.

The Inquisitor’s Heirs

Statolatry and Ozymandias

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