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Being Able to Meet Your Son

The short documentary, I Lived on Parker Avenueis very moving.  As a CNA article by Maggie Maslak explains, it’s about a meeting between David Scottons — who was seconds away from being aborted, but was instead put up for adoption — with his birth parents.

“I hope those who watch will see what the adoption option can do. Without the adoption option, I would not be here today…my parents would not have the gift of their only child; nor would my grandparents have the gift of their only grandchild. That’s what adoption does. It can save lives and build families,” he said.

Moving forward, David plans on “always keeping in touch” with his birth parents, saying, “I am looking forward to seeing my biological sister and half-sister grow up as well.”

Pro-abortion advocates will likely call the film emotionally exploitative and self-serving for the young pro-life advocate at its center, but the subject is inherently emotional.  To warn of exploitation would be to forbid pro-lifers from telling the compelling, true stories that support their views.

The question of whether David Scottons is serving his own interests as an activists gets to a curios rhetorical device that we see often from the left.  On one hand, as we’ve seen with recent school shootings, nobody is presumed to have authority to speak on an issue unless they’ve been personally affected by something.  On the other hand, somebody on the right who advances his or her message through a compelling personal story is presented as trying to cash in.  The common theme, obviously, is that one is never presumed to be advocating in good faith for culturally or politically conservative issues.

Give I Lived on Parker Avenue a viewing.  Then do what you can to find and support similarly compelling productions.  On abortion as on a great many issues, we’re so clearly in the right that the only way we lose the battle of ideas is to back down when we’re attacked unfairly and illogically.

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Some Obvious Observations About Population Growth

Sadly, the modern age sometimes requires us to restate blindingly obvious things, as Glenn Stanton does for The Federalist:

It’s a terribly stubborn demographic truism: Somewhere close to 100 percent of babies never born will never become customers of your business. This is true of the more than 55 million American babies who never made it past the womb since abortion was legalized in 1973. It’s true of the untold millions who were never conceived because a potential mom and dad thought they had better things to do.

Of course, there is an inestimable, inherent worth and dignity to every human life, but we cannot ignore the social significance at play here as well. These invaluable lives-never-realized are a whole lot of missing customers. Not good for business. Not good. Nor will they be paying into social security or pensions to provide your part when that time comes either. …

Many countries have been noting this with tremendous concern for more than a decade. Rather than the apocalyptic “population bomb” which was supposed to wipe out countries and lead to the starvation of millions, the exact opposite has happened. Governments across the world are working hard, and often with desperate creativity, to boost the number of new home-grown citizens in their nations.

Understanding the economic value of people, a society shouldn’t do things like make the public bill for raising children so high the public turns away from it, or use the law to deny unique status to the types of relationships that create children, or perpetuate public policy that drives productive people away.

Unfortunately — in part, but not only, because of that old “population bomb” rhetoric — a strain of belief runs through our civilization that there are simply too many people already.  That belief implicitly implicitly relates to a great many of the issues that vex our public dialogue.  People are bad and racist, so we need to impose restrictions on their free association and speech.  People are a blight on the planet, so they’re causing catastrophic climate change.  People are selfish and ignorant, so we require central planning to take decisions out of their hands.

With such beliefs, the obvious thing probably seems to not have children.

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Arthur Brooks Of AEI Inspires Audience at Center’s Leadership Luncheon

This last week, one of America’s leading conservative thinkers, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, inspired over sixty local leaders at our Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity leadership luncheon. One guest said: “Every once in a while I get the opportunity to experience something that will change my life in such a profound positive way, that was exactly what happened to me yesterday as I listened to Mr. Arthur Brooks’ words of wisdom. I was further empowered and assured that together we all can and should make that needed difference!”

With “life entrepreneurship” as his central theme, Brooks encouraged the lawmakers and civic leaders in the audience to advance a “start up your life” attitude among the people of Rhode Island. Brooks said that by taking the risk of investing love, time, and commitment to the important people and self-improvement opportunities in one’s life, that this “start up your life” attitude will bring happiness, prosperity, and overall returns on that investment many times over.

The feedback from the bipartisan attendees, whether liberal or conservative, was overwhelmingly positive. As only Arthur Brooks can do, he challenged us intellectually to consider the kind of moral, family, and work culture we want to have in our state. Click here now to see pictures of the event.

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Once Again with the Plain Rebuttal to “Equal Pay Day”

Well, as long as people are willing to repeat discredited and obvious nonsense like the “Equal Pay Day” rhetoric, I suppose we’ll have to continue to recite the obvious responses.  Mary Katharine Ham has apparently drawn the short straw this time around:

These differing priorities understandably impact pay. Women are more likely to take a job that pays less to gain flexibility and work-life balance. I’ve done it myself many times.

Yet, as AEI’s Mark Perry points out, there is no widespread recognition of “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” to highlight men’s overrepresentation in very dangerous fields (coal mining, line work, and law enforcement among them), which often pay more to compensate for risk. …

There is no big “Equal Commute Day,” to acknowledge the gender commute gap …

Male college graduates, on average, also entertain employment options further afield from their universities than do women, thereby opening up more and possibly higher-paying opportunities. They also work several hours more per week on average than women.

Maybe I’m just idealizing the past, but it seems like talking points used to go away when they were shown to be utterly without merit.  In today’s polarized society, the strategy seems more to keep pressing on because the risk of losing one’s base is so much more substantial than the risk of never being able to persuade after a loss of credibility.

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Discrimination and a One-Way Establishment Clause

I’ve got an op-ed in the Rhode Island Catholic, pointing out how progressives seem to think the Establishment Clause only blocks other religions than progressivism:

If the clause in the First Amendment that forbids “an establishment of religion” within government means anything, it means that government can’t enforce one set of beliefs as the law to the exclusion of others. Unfortunately, too many people in an increasingly powerful ideological group don’t much care about the objective meaning of words. To them, the Establishment Clause is a one-way street. They get to establish, you have to follow their dogma.

Diaz may have pulled her bill when people didn’t treat it as the feel-good filler that she intended, but Catholics should consider it to be a warning shot. After all, if people in the state government believe they should have the right to come into our schools and determine whether our teachings discriminate, they must also believe they have the right to tell our children how they ought to live and, ultimately, what our relationship with God must be.

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What’s in a Word or Pronoun?

One thing I never could understand as hysteria over The N-Word became mainstream was why people let the word have any power over them.  Basically, granting it power implies some mixture of two assumptions:

  1. That it has some power over white people, in an irresistible call to racist arms, as if uttering the word leaves us with no personal agency and no choice but to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who share our hue.
  2. That it points to a real inferiority that we must perpetually pretend doesn’t exist for moral reasons.

Neither of these propositions is true, but at least one must be assumed for the n-word to have any power.  Either it must have an effect on other people’s actions, or it must have an effect on the listener him or her self, bringing to mind something like an actual handicap, as if uttering it shatters an illusion of self worth.  In the absence of the mindless mob, the obvious cure is confidence in one’s self worth and denial of the word’s power, not fixation on it.

Something similar seems to be going on with the not-yet-mainstream hysteria over misgendering, only in an inverse sort of way.  The n-word shouldn’t have power because the implied inferiority is, in fact, the illusion, and giving the word power gives force to something that isn’t real.  An undesired pronoun does have power because the presumed identity is the illusion, and it loses its force if others don’t acknowledge it.

Whether we should bend to the demands of identity politics in this case depends on whether morality requires the illusion, which would cut against the better part of philosophical thought, including Christianity.  Only the Truth can be morally binding.  The most insidious imposition of recent faddish philosophy is its holding that other people can define their own truths and make them morally binding on everybody else.

Thus, we’ve come around to the use of the word “bigot” as the latest power word, perversely defined as somebody who holds to objective reality despite somebody else’s assertions.  Unsurprisingly, we see the word given its force through the use of mobs.

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Toward Colleges That Are More than Indoctrination Hubs

Recent events at Providence College came to mind when I read this paragraph from a Rod Dreher post:

By the way, it’s not simply a matter of ideologically capturing areas of scholarship. The SJWs are now marching through student affairs offices. Patricia Daugherty writes at The Federalist about the annual convention of ACPA, the American College Personnel Association: College Student Educators International. This is the professional organization for campus administrators who oversee student life. She recently retired from a long career in the field, and says she always looked forward to going to this convention. Times. Have. Changed.

During recent controversy at (Roman Catholic) Providence College, involving an RA who came under attack for putting up a bulletin board promoting the Catholic teachings on marriage, hostility to the Church’s teachings found succor with Vice President for Student Affairs Kristine Cyr Goodwin.  The student affairs administrator clearly leaned toward the side of criticizing the RA and supporting those who’d reacted aggressively toward him.  At an event endorsing alternative lifestyles, she initiated a “we’re queer, we’re here” chant, as audible on a recording reviewed by The Current.

Thus, the overall impression of the controversy was of some professors and representatives of the Church (including the bishop) taking the RA’s side, administrators taking the other side, and the college president attempting to find the middle ground.  Objectively, in this situation, the administrators are radicalizing the school, which most students probably do not attend in order to be radicalized.

As that dynamic becomes increasingly pervasive, it changes the nature of higher education.  Colleges should be more than simply white collar trade schools, but they should also be more than hubs for the indoctrination of young adults.

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Farmland Subsidies and a Bad Trade in the Economic Ecology

In late summer 2016, I looked into the state government’s program, then under development, to purchase farmland and distribute it to small-time farmers (see here and here).  Well, Jennifer McDermott reports for the Associated Press that the program is now getting underway, emphasizing that the “entrepreneurial” farmers can buy the property for about one-fifth of what the state pays.

The National Farmers Union knows of no other state that buys farmland to sell to farmers at less than market price. Other states give tax credits and loans to beginning farmers.

Though some critics say this is not the role of state government, Rhode Island sees it as a way to keep young entrepreneurs from moving to other states, where land may be cheaper. It also could attract other farmers to the state, though retaining farmers who already are here is the main goal and the selection process favors Rhode Island farmers.

These points don’t make sense.  If other states don’t offer these benefits, farmers won’t find much-cheaper land for quite some distance, creating a pretty high barrier in order to up and leave.

More importantly, allocating resources to this activity — not only in the purchase price, but in the effect of preventing more-efficient usage of the land — implicitly makes somebody else’s activity more difficult.  On the hill down which excrement rolls, that “somebody” is more likely to be some other variation of entrepreneur trying to scrape resources together.

To keep the boutique farmer, in other words the state government may ultimately (although invisibly) be dismissing the office-based innovator with some hot technology of the future.  Given the geography and soil of the area, such a trade means playing to the Ocean State’s weaknesses, not its strengths.

And farmers aside, which Rhode Islanders does this policy benefit?  I’d suggest that the answer is relatively wealthy people who like the aesthetics of having nearby farms and purchasing local produce.  Those are aesthetics that I share, but our community (and economy) would be much better served by having it expressed in actual prices for produce.  Subsidizing local farms to keep the prices down creates higher prices for something we can’t see.

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The Flawed Thinking of a #10kPaysTheWay Policy

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has found its Bad Bill of the Week in Pawtucket Democrat Representative Carlos Tobon’s legislation proposing to pay wealthy people $10,000 each to move to Rhode Island:

“If we have to pay families, students, and businesses to move to or remain in Rhode Island, to survive our state’s oppressive tax and regulatory climate, then something is very wrong,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Worse than the obvious face-value inanity of the bill, the ignorant belief of how an economy and family dynamics actually work is what is most troubling. The legislation openly acknowledges the negative economy in our state, yet, as with other progressive policies, it tries to band-aid the symptom rather than cure the core illness. ”

The bill is so incandescently wrong-headed that it’s difficult to know where to begin criticizing it, but among the more objectionable aspects of Tobon’s proposal is the explicit concern of losing a seat in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.   That is what motivates politician’s to take action.  Decades of watching productive Rhode Islanders flow elsewhere for opportunity weren’t enough.  Political clout is the real concern.

As of the July Census projections of states’ populations, Rhode Island was just 157 people away from losing one of its congressmen.  That’s a 0.015% decrease in population, and we lose out.  The next state in line is New York, which is currently on track to lose a congressional seat.  But if the Empire State manages to add 0.015% to its population, then it will keep what it has at Rhode Island’s expense.

Numbers aside, suffice it to say that a state that has to bribe people in order to maintain its level of congressional representation — through either government welfare programs or direct hand-outs — is a state that has proven that it doesn’t deserve much clout in determining the course of the nation.

Rhode Islanders must get our own House in order.  If we could just  put into office people who don’t prioritize central planning and insider control, we could make our state a place that people aren’t as quick to leave and to which they want to move.

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Fatherlessness, an Out-of-Fashion Problem

There it is again. Joanne Jacobs writes on a problem that it just isn’t fashionable to care about solving:

We track school success by race and family income, but ignore the consequences of growing up in unstable, fatherless families, writes Ian Rowe.

Boys are more vulnerable to fatherlessness than their sisters, when it comes to school misbehavior, cognitive disability, low test scores, dropping out of high school and juvenile crime.

Rowe also cites the newly released study, Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States, which found “higher rates of father presence among low-income black households are associated with better outcomes for black boys.”

Addressing the problem of fatherlessness would require a return to more-traditional values and family structures, and that’s simply not a possibility for people of a certain ideology.  Unfortunately, that ideology controls large segments of our society and culture.

These side effects (as a charitable person would see them) provide a valuable lesson in how we should discern what is good.  Professing an intention to help people is worthless if one’s solutions create worse problems or even, more accurately, barricade the way to the correct solution.

We can consolidate the gains our society has made in areas such as equality without assenting to the deadly ideological virus that has piggybacked on good intentions and infected the body politic.

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The Soul of a Chicken

OK. Here’s one that’s a little outside of our usual content, here:

The headless chicken that found internet fame for surviving more than a week after being decapitated has now been adopted by monks.

Earlier this week the headless chicken made headlines around the world as it survived a beheading and was looked after by a kindly vet.

Take a look at the pictures (if you’re so inclined) and ask yourself:  What does this say about the boundary of “life” between animals and plants?

From a purely materialistic standpoint, living thing can be defined as an entity that processes information internally.  Weather can wear away a rock, but a plant can change what it does based on the information of the weather.  What separates an animal, like a chicken?  My view (broadly), is that animal life can deal in some level of abstraction; it takes in information from its senses and reacts in a way that adjusts from experience and predicts the future.  This is the inchoate foundation of the soul, to be less materialistic.

So, without a head, what is the chicken doing?  Can one train it to approach certain stimuli in the knowledge that it will receive food?  Or is it just a biological machine?

On a metaphysical level, one could go either way.  One could point to the chicken and still consider its animal life sacred and then conclude that plant life should be similarly sacred.  Or one could suggest that a headless chicken raises doubts about how much of a leap there really is from plant to animal and whether we really should value animals more highly than plants simply for the fact of their being animals.

I’m not quite in the mood to place my marker on this game board, at this moment, but as the stories increase in frequency of activists and lawmakers’ going after people who treat animals without the most recently approved level of care, I’ve thought that folks should perhaps consider these deep questions a bit more thoroughly.

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Overcoming America’s Boy Problem with Masculinity

The Cranston Herald has run a post of mine defining the flawed thinking in our society’s current approach to boys’ being boys:

The crisis we’re now facing is that our feminized society forecloses many of those channels. Boys with too much energy are drugged in schools. Sports that seem aggressive have come under fire, and we’re now several generations into the Title IX project to require bean-counting equality in the number of sports on college campuses.

A kid who wants to turn his boyish frustration into an intellectual pursuit and the heroism of curing some disease or something might find that – sorry, pal – the mission of the moment is promoting women in STEM. Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has an annual “Governor for a Day” writing contest from which Rhode Island boys are excluded.

Most of all, far too many homes have no father to provide the subtle example that boys need to follow. We see the result in school shootings, but also in suicides and drug overdoses, all of which disproportionately involve boys and men.

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Contraception and the Loss of Responsibility

Mary Eberstadt located the cause of many of our current social problems with the sexual revolution, in a speech at Notre Dame University:

“To discern the record of the last half-century is to see that the Catholic Church was right to stand as a sign of contradiction to the devastation the sexual revolution would wreak; that accommodating to the revolution has been an epic fail for the churches that have tried it; and that the truths of Humanae Vitaeand related documents burn all the more brightly against the shadowy toll of the destruction out there.”

“Be proud in the right way of your Church for getting one of the most important calls in history right,” Eberstadt encouraged. “And never let anyone put a kick-me sign on you for being an unapologetic Catholic.”

These are encouraging words to hear, given trends that we see here in the Northeast, which are roiling even Catholic campuses.  (See “Complete Coverage” box below.)

When it comes to Eberstadt’s analysis, the only thing I’d add is that she stops short of the underlying mechanism.  Contraception’s role in our deteriorating society is not merely that it allows people to engage in the sexual activity toward which they are driven; one could argue that marriage does so, as well, with some concessions.  The problem with contraception is that it moves responsibility away from the adults; if a pregnancy results, it is the fault of a thing, not the responsibility of the two people engaging in intimate activity.

This brings us to something like the innocence of the Garden of Eden, as I presented it a few years ago in an essay about property rights and responsibility.  Basically, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they lost their innocence most profoundly in the sense that they would have to work to live and take responsibility for their actions.  Childbirth, for example, would no longer be simply a natural process for which God would provide the resources; it would be a painful process for the woman and an added burden of responsibility to both parents.

If we’re relying on neither God nor ourselves to take responsibility, we’re putting our faith in either a thing or a person.  If it’s a thing, that makes us irresponsible.  If it’s other people, that makes us slaves. This conclusion doesn’t require our society to become overtly Catholic, or even more generally Christian, but we have to recognize the foundational challenges of social change if we’re to mitigate the consequences.

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Hair Braiders Should Have the #RIghtToEarn a Living

Oppressive Regulations Harm Low Income Families. Hair braiding is a generational and practical African-style art-form for Jocelyn DoCouto and her family, which hail from Senegal and Cape Verde. Yet, unable to afford the burdensome levels of fees and training required to receive permission from the government to legally work in a field that presents no safety risks, Jocelyn, as well as other would-be entrepreneurs, are not able to operate a business that would provide them hope to achieve financial independence.

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A Lesson in White Privilege

A couple of years ago, I wrote a parody song to the tune of Randy Newman’s “Short People,” titled “Pale People.”  No matter what the challenges of your actual experience might be, one verse suggested, “All a’ that ain’t nothin’ to the color of your skin.”

Well this is an interesting finding, from the left-leaning Brookings Institution:

… Poor minorities (defined here as blacks and Hispanics) face similar—and often worse—poverty-related challenges than do non-Hispanic poor whites. Yet they are more resilient in the face of negative shocks, less likely to report depression or commit suicide, and significantly more optimistic about the future. Part of the explanation is their higher levels of community and family support. Aspirations also matter. Poor blacks and Hispanics tend to report they are better off than their parents were, while many blue-collar whites are facing a reality of downward mobility. Many of their primary occupations are close to extinction, and family structures have weakened significantly (a trend that is associated with the drop in labor force participation).

That’s not surprising.  In the popular culture, which has been taken over by progressive ideology, minorities are to be celebrated.  They’re the future.  They can accomplish anything, and society should give them special advantages to make it so.  Meanwhile, white people, especially white men, are everywhere the villains.  They have to “check their privilege.”  Anything they accomplish is tainted because they are the beneficiaries of oppression.  Government-funded reports insist that the future has darker skin, and we should start changing the communities that government serves now, in preparation.

Based on the interactive graphic on the Brookings page, “poor non-Hispanic whites” in Rhode Island have low optimism relative to the country, high worry, and high pain.  Unfortunately, the statistics for minorities are too small for Brookings to rank them in Rhode Island, but Massachusetts is telling.  Poor minorities in our northern neighbor have among the lowest rates of worry in the country, while their white peers have among the highest rates of worry.

This shouldn’t be a contest; we should be concerned about all of our neighbors.  Unfortunately, progressive identity politics rely on dividing us so we’ll keep handing over power to the truly privileged and powerful.

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A Snapshot of Celebrity Morals

The next time some celebrity presumes to proclaim a principle as if his or her social status brings with it some sort of moral authority, remind yourself of this story by Hannah Sparks in the New York Post:

The Hollywood EGF Facial — a $650 treatment — involves a cleanse, chemical peel, microneedling, an “electrifying” face mask and a so-called “Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF)” — a serum that happens to be derived from the foreskin of Korean newborns. The substance supposedly helps generate collagen and elastin in the skin.

It’s just one of many borderline cannibalistic — and inevitably expensive — beauty products wooing the rich and vain these days.

As the article goes on to indicate (although without expressing it thus), this may be part of a progressively pushed envelope.  The use of human secretions of one form or another has been a skin care strategy in the past, and moved on to the use of placentas and the customer’s own blood.

Along this trend line, utilizing discarded foreskins from other people’s children feels like a new level, in keeping with the use of young people’s blood in anti-aging experiments.  This is a precarious and (yes) slippery slope, and we make a huge mistake in our society when we attribute a higher moral status to precisely the class of people who seem to have the least friction to their soles.

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The Irrational Assumptions Allowing Elimination of Down Syndrome

George Will writes powerfully against the West’s efforts to “eradicate” Down Syndrome:

An Iceland geneticist says “we have basically eradicated” Down syndrome people, but regrets what he considers “heavy-handed genetic counseling” that is influencing “decisions that are not medical, in a way.” One Icelandic counselor “counsels” mothers as follows: “This is your life. You have the right to choose how your life will look like.” She says, “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended.” Which makes Agusta and Lucas “things” that were not “ended.”

Because Iceland’s population is only about 340,000, the problem (again, see the photos of problem Agusta and problem Lucas) is more manageable there than in, say, the United Kingdom. It has approximately 40,000 Down syndrome citizens, many of whom were conceived before the development of effective search-and-destroy technologies. About 750 British Down syndrome babies are born each year, but 90 percent of women who learn that their child will have — actually, that their child does have — Down syndrome have an abortion. In Denmark the elimination rate is 98 percent.

For many — maybe most— political or ideological positions with which I disagree, I can imagine my way around to understanding how reasonable differences about assumptions can lead people to conclusions with which I disagree.  Especially with improved medical imaging technology, the reach of my imagination cannot make a pro-abortion stance reasonable.  (I’ll also acknowledge that my thinking was objectively unreasonable back when I held that monstrous view in my youth.)

Aborting a pregnancy because a screening is suggestive of Down Syndrome is tantamount to saying, “My child will have a developmental disease; let me kill him or her before it becomes more morally complicated for me to do so.”  The underlying assumptions that make such a statement seem rational must be either irrational or morally repugnant.

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