Archive for the ‘Notes to a Friend’ Category.

Drugs, Employment, Change, and Community

The misuse of prescription painkillers, heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl is, by now, painfully well known. The U.S. tops the world in drug deaths; in 2015, more people died from overdoses — with two thirds involving an opioid — than from car accidents or gun violence.

The epidemic is also having a devastating effect on companies — large and small — and their ability to stay competitive. Managers and owners across the country are at a loss in how to deal with addicted workers and potential workers, calling the issue one of the biggest problems they face. Applicants are increasingly unwilling or unable to pass drug tests; then there are those who pass only to show signs of addiction once employed. Even more confounding: how to respond to employees who have a legitimate prescription for opioids but whose performance slips. “That is really the battlefield for us right now,” said Markus Dietrich, global manager of employee assistance and worklife services at chemical giant DuPont, which employs 46,000 worldwide.

The issue is amplifying labor shortages in industries like trucking, which has had difficulty for the last six years finding qualified workers. It’s also pushing employers to broaden their job searches, recruiting people from greater distances when roles can’t be filled with local workers. At stake is not only safety and productivity within companies — but the need for humans altogether, with some manufacturers claiming opioids force them to automate work faster.

The opioid crisis is creating a fresh hell for America’s employers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Just a few miles from where President Trump will address his blue-collar base here Tuesday night, exactly the kind of middle-class factory jobs he has vowed to bring back from overseas are going begging.

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The fallout is not limited to the workers or their immediate families. Each quarter, Columbiana Boiler, a local company, forgoes roughly $200,000 worth of orders for its galvanized containers and kettles because of the manpower shortage, it says, with foreign rivals picking up the slack.

“Our main competitor in Germany can get things done more quickly because they have a better labor pool,” said Michael J. Sherwin, chief executive of the 123-year-old manufacturer. “We are always looking for people and have standard ads at all times, but at least 25 percent fail the drug tests.”

The economic impact of drug use on the work force is being felt across the country, and perhaps nowhere more than in this region, which is struggling to overcome decades of deindustrialization.

Economy Needs Workers, but Drug Tests Take a Toll

[W]hen it’s suggested that our current set of arrangements won’t last forever people immediately imagine Mad Max, as if no other alternative exists. Things are going to change. They always have and they always will. The future will just be different. That’s absolutely not the same as saying the world is coming to an end. Clear eyed individuals who are paying attention can start to get a feel for who the new winners and losers are likely to be and place themselves in the best possible situation ahead of the curve. That’s a pragmatist’s view – not a doomer’s.

. . .

If small scale agriculture was made redundant by mechanization and industrial scale production, then industry itself was hammered by other equally powerful forces. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end.

. . .

The most recent iteration of the Zombie Apocalypse has already begun to unfold in some places. Suburbia was exactly the right thing for a particular period of time. But that era is winding down. The modest tract homes and strip malls built after World War II are not holding up well in an increasing number of marginal landscapes. I have been accused of cherry picking my photo ops, particularly by people who engage in their own cherry picking when discussing the enduring value of prosperous suburbs. But there’s too much decay in far too many places to ignore the larger trend. The best pockets of suburbia will carry on just fine. But the majority of fair-to-middling stuff on the periphery is going down hard.

. . .

The future drivers of change will be the same as the previous century – only in reverse. The great industrial cities of the early twentieth century as well as the massive suburban megaplexes that came after them were only possible because of an underlaying high tide of cheap abundant resources, easy financing, complex national infrastructure, and highly organized and cohesive organizational structures. Those are the elements of expansion.

But once the peak has been reached there’s a relentless contraction. The marginal return on investment goes negative as the cost of maintaining all the aging structures and wildly inefficient attenuated systems becomes overwhelming. The places that do best in a prolonged retreat from complexity are the ones with the greatest underlying local resource base and most cohesive social structures relative to their populations. The most complex places with the most critical dependencies will fail first as the tide recedes.

. . .

Over the long haul Main Street has a pretty good chance of coming back along with the family farm. But the shorter term in-between period of adjustment to contraction is going to be rough as existing institutions attempt to maintain themselves at all costs.

Postcards From the Zombie Apocalypse

A slew of reports finds a fresh reason for the chronic inability of American companies to fill skilled jobs: not a lack of skills, and hence a training-and-education crisis, but a surfeit of drug abuse, per the NYT’s Nelson Schwartz. Simply put, prime-working age Americans without a college diploma are often too drugged-out to get the best jobs. Opioids remain at high levels, but the surge in drug use is now heroin and the powerful contaminant fentanyl.

The reports suggest a circularity to the crisis in America’s rust and manufacturing belts: the loss of jobs and wage stagnation has led to widespread disaffection, alienation and drug abuse; and drug abuse has led to joblessness, hopelessness and disaffection.

But the numbers are all over the map. Some employers and economists say up to half of job applicants do not clear drug tests; others say it is 25%. In the chart above, Indeed economist Jed Kolko, using data from the U.S. Current Population Survey, found that 5.6% to 5.7% of working-age adults didn’t work last year because of illness or disability, an unknown percentage of which were because of drug use.

Many Americans are too drugged-out to work

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What if Christian organizations went on strike?

Many of the services Americans take for granted are provided by churches and Christian organizations. It is not hyperbolic to say that core areas of American life would languish or collapse without the contributions of Christian people and organizations. These enormous social contributions are frequently underappreciated, but would certainly be missed.

Perhaps the most important is health care. John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, wrote in an article titled “No Christianity, No Hospitals: Don’t Take Christian Contributions for Granted”:

One in six hospital beds in our country is located in a Catholic hospital. In at least thirty communities, the Catholic hospital is the only hospital in a 35-mile radius. This doesn’t even take into account hospitals run by other Christian bodies such as Baptists, Methodists, and especially Seventh-Day Adventists.

Catholic hospitals are the largest single category within non-profit hospitals, which themselves account for about half of all hospitals.

. . .

At a lecture once in my college Catholic center, our priest said that if laws required Catholic agencies to place children in same-sex households, the church should suspend its adoption placements entirely. What about the children who won’t get placed in homes, I asked? Can the church sacrifice real people for its own survival? Of course it can, he explained; it is more important to preserve the integrity of the church for the future, because it is the church’s moral and spiritual integrity which inspires it to do social good in the first place. That argument may not be watertight, but it is one Christians must grapple with.

Orthodox Christians in America have gotten into the habit of bemoaning their inexorably shrinking political power and the rising hostility to religious freedom. But they actually possess enormous political power: the ability to grind to a halt the health care, educational, and social services infrastructure of the United States. Will they use it?

Jesus Shrugged: What if Christian organizations just went on strike?

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D’s and R’s….

The Democrats are torn between being the party of Elizabeth Warren and the party of the guy who cuts her grass, and it is inevitable that the people who provide the Democrats with their votes and manpower are going to eventually start asking why it is that their policy agenda, which is economically focused, is being held hostage to the excretory and sexual obsessions of a relatively tiny cabal of Wellesley graduates and puffed-up assistant vice principals.

You’d think that Republicans, who like to think of themselves as the party of economic growth and opportunity, might reach out to a few of those voters interested in upward mobility for themselves and their children. But Republicans are locked in the political toilet with the Democrats.

. . .

As it turns out, Texas Republicans have a rich fantasy life, too.

Strange Obsessions

Ozymandias and statolatry

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How to Win the Culture War


Peter Kreeft – How to Win the Culture War

If you can’t see that our entire civilization is in crisis, then you are a wounded victim of the war. We are now engaged in the most serious war that the world has ever known. What follows is a three point checklist for understanding what is really at stake at the most critical period of human history:

To win any war, the three most necessary things to know are (1) that you are at war, (2) who your enemy is, and (3) what weapons or strategies can defeat him. You cannot win a war (1) if you simply sew peace on a battlefield, (2) if you fight civil wars against your allies, or (3) if you use the wrong weapons.

. . .

We’ve had prophets who warned us: Kierkegaard, 150 years ago, in The Present Age; and Spengler, 100 years ago, in The Decline of the West, and Aldous Huxley, seventy years ago, in Brave New World, and C. S. Lewis, forty years ago, in The Abolition of Man, and above all our popes: Leo XIII and Pius IX and Pius X and above all John Paul the Great, the greatest man in the world, the greatest man of the worst century. He had even more chutzpah than Ronald Reagan, who dared to call Them “the evil empire” : He called US: “the culture of death.” That’s our culture, and his, including Italy, with the lowest birth rate in the world, and Poland, which now wants to share in the rest of the West’s abortion holocaust.

If the God of life does not respond to this culture of death with judgment, God is not God. If God does not honor the blood of the hundreds of millions of innocent victims then the God of the Bible, the God of Israel, the God of orphans and widows, the Defender of the defenseless, is a man-made myth, a fairy tale.

But is not God forgiving?

He is, but the unrepentant refuse forgiveness. How can forgiveness be received by a moral relativist who denies that there is anything to forgive except a lack of self-esteem, nothing to judge but “judgmentalism?” How can a Pharisee or a pop psychologist be saved?

But is not God compassionate?

He is not compassionate to Moloch and Baal and Ashtaroth, and to Caananites who do their work, who “cause their children to walk through the fire.” Perhaps your God is—the God of your dreams, the God of your “religious preference” —but not the God revealed in the Bible.

But is not the God of the Bible revealed most fully and finally in the New Testament rather than the Old? In sweet and gentle Jesus rather than wrathful and warlike Jehovah?

The opposition is heretical: the old Gnostic-Manichaean-Marcionite heresy, as immortal as the demons who inspired it. For “I and the Father are one.” The opposition between nice Jesus and nasty Jehovah denies the very essence of Christianity: Christ’s identity as the Son of God. Let’s remember our theology and our biology: like Father, like Son.

But is not God a lover rather than a warrior?

No, God is a lover who is a warrior. The question fails to understand what love is, what the love that God is, is. Love is at war with hate, betrayal, selfishness, and all love’s enemies. Love fights. Ask any parent. Yuppie-love, like puppy-love, may be merely “compassion” (the fashionable word today), but father-love and mother-love are war.

In fact, every page of the Bible bristles with spears, from Genesis 3 through Revelation 20. The road from Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained is soaked in blood. At the very center of the story is a cross, a symbol of conflict if there ever was one. The theme of spiritual warfare is never absent in scripture, and never absent in the life and writings of a single saint. But it is never present in the religious education of any of my “Catholic” students at Boston College. Whenever I speak of it, they are stunned and silent, as if they have suddenly entered another world. They have. They have gone past the warm fuzzies, the fur coats of psychology-disguised-as-religion, into a world where they meet Christ the King, not Christ the Kitten.

Welcome back from the moon, kids.

Where is the culture of death coming from?

Here. America is the center of the culture of death. America is the world’s one and only cultural superpower.

If I haven’t shocked you yet, I will now. Do you know what Muslims call us? They call us “The Great Satan.” And do you know what I call them? I call them right.

How to Win the Culture War, by Peter Kreeft

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Children of Divorce

Two new books written by Catholic authors—”Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak” by Leila Miller, and “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children” by Jennifer Johnson—explore the inner turmoil of children of divorce, the lifetime consequences of divorce, and the unique pastoral challenges divorce presents for children, whether young or adult.

. . .

CWR: What surprised you most about the book contributors’ answers? Are there any unintended threads running through the book?

Leila Miller: What surprised me most was the raw pain, even and especially after so many years, and the fear of their true feelings being discovered. It was shocking to me! The pattern of the children protecting the feelings of the adults, sticking to the narrative they’d been given, and then acting out (or inward) in destructive ways as a way of coping with the explosion of their families—it was repeated again and again in their stories. Several of the contributors, upon reading the finished book, expressed shock that they were not the only ones who experienced the same feelings and patterns of behavior. In fact, some of them were surprised to see that certain entries were not their own! That is how similar many of their interior stories are.

Another surprising thing was that the devastation did not depend on the age of the child at the time of the divorce. Whether contributors’ parents had split when they were infants, small children, teens, or adults (even in their 30s!), the devastation, confusion, and sense of upheaval was profound. Also, whether the parents’ marriage had been abusive or low-conflict had no real bearing on their pain. We are told that “good divorce” is not damaging to children, and yet my contributors say otherwise.

The victims of divorce speak

Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak,” by Leila Miller

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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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The Wickedness of Judas

We should never think ourselves beyond the wickedness of Judas. Proximity to Jesus does not always mean intimacy with Him.

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Greed is grasping. It’s really not so much about possessions but control – about having such means at our disposal that we do not need to rely on others, or even God. It is “practical” in the worst sense of that word.

. . .

Judas fails to repent. No doubt, he feels remorse over what he has done. And this is no small thing. In the tangle of his heart he still bore at least some love for Jesus. But notice: he returns not to Jesus but to the chief priests – to his coconspirators. To them, he acknowledges his sin. Judas possesses not repentance but regret. By repentance we look to the good God, to the Redeemer, to the one Who is Mercy. In His light, we reject sin. By regret we look to ourselves, turn further inward, and close ourselves off from the reconciliation and healing that come from God alone.

One of the Twelve

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Fathers Need Children

This is the great paradox of our time: In 2017, it has never been easier for us to satisfy our wants, but we seldom have been more dissatisfied. In the United States, in Europe, in Latin America, and even (more quietly) in parts of Asia and in Australia, there is a sense that things are not going quite right, that the old order — not only in politics but also in commercial and religious life — is dead on its feet. People have turned to leaders and movements of very different kinds — Hugo Chávez, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, black-mask anarchism — in search of alternatives. In a sense, they are all the same: Those who had felt themselves to be on the outside looking in are now on the outside looking out.

Once, the question the ambitious and dissatisfied asked themselves was: “How do I climb that ladder?” Current tastes run more toward smashing the ladder and the hierarchies for which it stands in the name of . . . whatever: feminism or anti-feminism, black liberation or white nationalism, global justice or national sovereignty.

We spend our days surrounded by great miracles and minor irritations.

. . .

We do not have a problem of privation in the United States. Not really. What we have is something related to what Arthur Brooks (“the most interesting man in Washington,” Tim Alberta calls him) describes as the need for earned success. We are not happy with mere material abundance. We — and not to go all Iron John on you, but I think “we” here applies especially to men — need to feel that we have earned our keep, that we have established a place for ourselves in the world by our labor or by other virtues, especially such masculine virtues as physical courage and endurance. I suspect that is a big part of the reason for the exaggeratedly reverential, practically sacramental attitude we current express toward soldiers, police officers, and firemen.

. . .

The newly unemployed man of 40 seeking to reinvent himself is not in the most promising position.

Two things are going on here related to American unhappiness: The first is that as our economy becomes less physical and more intellectual, success in life is less like war and more like chess, and extraordinary success in life — i.e., being part of the founding of a successful new company — is a lot like being a grandmaster: It is an avenue that simply is not open to everyone. It requires talents that are not distributed with any sense of fairness and that are not earnable: Hard work is not enough.

. . .

But the marriage and family that once was a source of security is today a source of insecurity, an unstable and uncertain thing scarcely defended by the law (it is far, far easier to walk away from a marriage than from a student loan) and held in low regard by much of society. Again, this works differently for men than for women: A single mother is still a mother, but a father who lives apart from his children and their mother is not a father in full. If he is not fixed in this world by being a father and a husband, and if he has only ordinary, unexceptional employment, what, exactly, is he? Self-sufficient, perhaps, and that isn’t nothing. But how does he stand in relation to other men, to his neighbors, and to those who came before him and will come after him? His status is vague, and it is precarious.

And there is the paradox within our paradox: The world is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, and many of us have trouble finding our place in it, in part, because it is wondrous and beautiful and exciting and rich, so much so that we have lost touch with certain older realities. One of those realities is that children need fathers. Another is that fathers need children.

But these are what my colleague David French calls the “wounds that public policy will not heal.” Our churches are full of people who would love to talk to you about healing, but many have lost interest in that sort of thing, too. And so they turn to Trump, to Le Pen, to Chavismo (which is what Bernie Sanders is peddling), and, perhaps, to opiate-induced oblivion. Where will they turn when they figure out — and they will figure it out — that there are no answers in these, either?

And what will we offer them?

On the Outside, Looking Out

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American Carnage – Opioid Addiction

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket [Rhode Island] is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor (Recovery Community Center). Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2 percent of the population.

. . .

At the turn of the nineteenth century, scientists isolated morphine, the active ingredient in opium, and in the 1850s the hypodermic needle was invented. They seemed a godsend in Civil War field hospitals, but many soldiers came home addicted. Zealous doctors prescribed opiates to upper-middle-class women for everything from menstrual cramps to “hysteria.” The “acetylization” of morphine led to the development of heroin. Bayer began marketing it as a cough suppressant in 1898, which made matters worse. The tally of wrecked middle-class families and lives was already high by the time Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914, threatening jail for doctors who prescribed opiates to addicts. Americans had had it with heroin. It took almost a century before drug companies could talk them back into using drugs like it.

If you take too much heroin, your breathing slows until you die. Unfortunately, the drug sets an addictive trap that is sinister and subtle. It provides a euphoria—a feeling of contentment, simplification, and release—which users swear has no equal. Users quickly develop a tolerance, requiring higher and higher amounts to get the same effect. The dosage required to attain the feeling the user originally experienced rises until it is higher than the dosage that will kill him. An addict can get more or less “straight,” but approaching the euphoria he longs for requires walking up to the gates of death. If a heroin addict sees on the news that a user or two has died from an overly strong batch of heroin in some housing project somewhere, his first thought is, “Where is that? That’s the stuff I want.”

. . .

Difficult though recovery from addiction has always been, it has always had this on its side: It is a rigorously truth-focused and euphemism-free endeavor, something increasingly rare in our era of weasel words. The face of addiction a generation ago was that of the working-class or upper-middle-class man, probably long and intimately known to his neighbors, who stood up at an AA meeting in a church basement and bluntly said, “Hi, I’m X, and I’m an alcoholic.”

The culture of addiction treatment that prevails today is losing touch with such candor. It is marked by an extraordinary level of political correctness. Several of the addiction professionals interviewed for this article sent lists of the proper terminology to use when writing about opioid addiction, and instructions on how to write about it in a caring way. These people are mostly generous, hard-working, and devoted. But their codes are neither scientific nor explanatory; they are political.

. . .

Addiction plays on our strengths, not just our failings. It simplifies things. It relieves us of certain responsibilities. It gives life a meaning. It is a “perversely clever copy of that transcendent peace of God.”

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous thought there was something satanic about addiction. The mightiest sentence in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous is this: “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful!” The addict is, in his own, life-damaged way, rational. He’s too rational. He is a dedicated person—an oblate of sorts, as Seeburger puts it. He has commitments in another, nether world.

American Carnage, by Christopher Caldwell

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False Gods, Idols

The sentence “diversity is a cult” makes no sense. It is like saying that “sweetness is a cult” or “studying French is a cult.” There is nothing wrong with sweetness or studying French, or with weight-lifting, watching baseball, breeding dogs, or a thousand other things that people do. Anything good, however, can become the object of a cult-like devotion. So some men and women devote their whole lives to picking heavy things up and putting them down. Sexual intercourse is a good thing, or else God would not have commanded Adam and Eve in the beginning to be fruitful and multiply; but it is also probably the single thing that has, all the world over and from prehistoric times to our own day, most commonly been made the heart of a cult.

We might call man homo religiosus, so fertile and febrile is that factory of idols, his imagination. Chesterton had it right: the man who ceases to believe in God does not then believe in nothing. He will believe in anything, and shower upon that object the devotion that is due only to the divine. That includes his obedience. The man who will not obey the God whose commands will set him free does not then go his own way. He can be found straightaway bowing and scraping slave-like before a false god – a tricked-up political thug like Mao, a moronic and inhuman ideology like Nazism, Mother Earth the womb and tomb of all, anything; and will with a clear conscience offer up other people to placate the deity.

But before I say, “Some people run the danger of turning diversity into a false god,” I would like to know what we mean by the term. Replace it with synonyms. I cannot imagine people crying out, “We want variety!” Or, “We want in a certain human group an appreciable variance from the norm in some particular respect!” Put it in those ways and you take all the emotion out of it; nobody is inspired to tears by variety, or by an appreciable variance from the norm.

. . .

There is nothing either good or bad about “variety,” “divergence,” or “deviation from the mean” per se, because without a subject the terms have no meaning. If you are building a championship baseball team, you need players who possess a visible diversity of skills and body-types; you cannot win with nine shortstops. But “gender diversity”? Not if you want to win. It is healthy for a man to have a variety of friends. It is not healthy for him to have a variety of wives.

. . .

But perhaps, after all, diversity refers to a certain political project, adhered to with an intensity that reminds one of crowds singing hymns at a revival. If so, regardless of whether the project in question is just, my colleagues should admit it, if for nothing else than to let us know what they are talking about, and why they are so eager to take up an inquisition against someone who declines to join.

Diversity Is Not a Cult—But What is It?

Moral preening and Ozymandias

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