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“Converting” Our Form of Government

If we want to live under a government with the power to forbid children and their parents from seeing what therapeutic options might be available for unwanted feelings, I guess that’s a conversation that we can have, although I find myself on the side of the ACLU in worrying about giving legislators “wide latitude to ban unpopular medical treatments.”  But if we’re going to have this conversation, we should do so with accurate information about what the bans cover, and Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on Rhode Island’s new ban of “conversion therapy” fails on that count:

The bill makes it illegal in Rhode Island for licensed health care professionals to advertise or engage in conversion therapy for anyone under 18. It does not affect religious counselors or leaders — or adults who choose such a program.

That “does not affect” sentence is just not correct.  Read this section of the law:

23-94-4. Prohibition on state funding for conversion therapy. No state funds, nor any funds belonging to a municipality, agency, or political subdivision of this state, shall be expended for the purpose of conducting conversion therapy, referring a person for conversion therapy, health benefits coverage for conversation therapy, or a grant or contract with any entity that conducts conversion therapy or refers individuals for conversion therapy.

This is separate from the section that bans “licensed professionals” from offering such therapy to minors, and it goes much farther.  It covers “any entity that conducts… or refers individuals for conversion therapy.”  So, while a licensed professional would only lose his or her Rhode Island license if he or she provides the therapy to minors, that professional would lose access to any state or local funds that somebody might complain subsides the therapy for for adults, as well as any “grant or contract” whatsoever, whether related to conversion therapy or not.

This would apply, as well, to any person, group, or organization that refers an adult to such a therapist.  An aggressive judiciary could find within this language justification for removing tax exemption from any church that even suggests trying therapy to any church member.

This bill is your supposed representatives using your government to tell you what you must believe about the universe and your very self.

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What It Means to Be 45th

In all the years I’ve been following Rhode Island’s standing on various national rankings, about the only substantive comeback from the forces of the status quo has been that we do okay when it comes to “quality of life.”  As I’ve pointed out, “quality of life” is only much use to those who can afford to enjoy it, and Rhode Island fails by that standard.  Great restaurants may impress an organization ranking states, but they’re utterly irrelevant to the family that can barely put food on the table.

So, now the buzz is that Rhode Island finally moved from dead last on CNBC’s “Top States for Business” ranking.  Here’s Ted Nesi on WPRI:

“Just one year ago the Ocean State finished dead last,” Cohn wrote. “The improvement is no accident. Every time we rank Rhode Island at or near the bottom, state officials take it to heart.”

The CNBC list and its methodology have plenty of critics, particularly on the left. But Rhode Island’s elected leaders have made clear over the years that they care a great deal about the state’s perennially poor showings on this list and other national business-climate rankings.

Exactly.  It’s been clear for years that state officials in Rhode Island are very concerned about the ranking, but not so much about what the ranking is actually telling us.  Consequently, they’ve sought policies to game the methodology, not to address the underlying problems — policies such as income and corporate income tax “reforms” that lowered rates on paper but wound up increasing the amount of tax collected.  Folks, you’re missing the point.

This is how Rhode Island produces an unemployment rate drop, but only because it’s driving people out of the labor force.

It’s also how we get a change that nobody’s talking about.  Our “quality of life,” according to CNBC, fell from 24th best in the country to 31st.  And observe that our state experienced this drop despite the fact that it includes such measures as health insurance coverage, at which we supposedly excel.

Our politicians may be improving our statistics, but they’re making our lives worse.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Progressive Values Devalue Human Work

Message to General Assembly leadership: #JustStayHome! By kowtowing to pressure from the progressive-left, the provisions in the proposed 2018 budget, along with other crippling legislation, send a disturbing, but clear message to Rhode Islanders: hard work is valued less than unearned worker privileges. Rhode Islanders’ natural drive to engage in gainful and honest work and to invest in new ventures is corrupted by false promises that they can become part of a new “I got mine” special-interest crowd.

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Don’t Let the Pubescence Choose Its Name

David Gelernter made an important point — with broader application than his example — in an op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal (bold emphasis added):

“Resistance” is unacceptable in referring to the Trump opposition because, obviously, it suggests the Resistance—against the Nazis in occupied France. Many young people are too ignorant to recognize the term, but that hardly matters. The press uses it constantly. So when a young innocent finally does encounter the genuine French Resistance, he will think, “Aha, just like the resistance to Trump!” And that’s all the left wants: a mild but continuous cultural breeze murmuring in every American ear that opposing Trump is noble and glorious. Vive la Résistance!

This has been a decades’ long practice.  Very often, in mainstream entertainment, one can guess the bad guy by the degree to which he teaches that those whom the Left dislikes should be distrusted.  In 2015, I wrote about one of the more-striking examples that I’ve come across recently, concerning the movie version of The Maze Runner.  Of the characters, the hero group is thoroughly multicultural while the foolish, cowardly group is all white and male, except for one actor whom the director had kneel out of sight in a group shot as if he’d been assigned to his group by accident.

The movie, in other words, maintains that “mild but continuous cultural breeze” that white men who emphasize rules and/or talk in religious terms are either directly the villains or at least a dangerous influence attempting to restrain advancement toward survival and purpose.

Happily, if we look, we are starting to see signs that artists’ boredom with this cliché is outweighing their ideological preference to perpetuate it.  But our civilization can’t afford to wait for that natural process of artists’ pretensions of counter-culturalism.  We have to be more active in refusing to let the Left define itself and the rest of us.

So, here’s a my offering in the case at hand:

ThePubescence

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Indirect Moral Corruption Driving Catholics Out of the North

Part of the cynical wisdom, up here in the Northeast, is that the Catholic Church has to support pro-immigration policy because it needs immigrants to keep its parishes going.  To the extent that this demographic pressure has any effect on what the Church actually does, a Catholic News Agency article about the Church’s growth in the South should suggest other policy positions that the Northern Church could promote:

The growth in part reflects the number of Catholics moving south from northern dioceses. Though this results in the closures of churches and schools in former Catholic strongholds, it is driving new expansion in the U.S. South.

I’ve half-joked that I’ve remained in Rhode Island out of missionary motivation, and only the jest part is political.  A region that is driving families apart and separating people from their homes presents real moral challenges.  In that regard, the Catholic Church — all churches — should acknowledge what the government plantation policies of Rhode Island are doing and impress upon believers their moral obligation to stay and to change things.

Working against poverty and injustice can’t be limited to standing up for those who are clearly oppressed, or else good works risk falling into vanity.  Vanishingly few people in contemporary America question the righteousness of helping those who immediately need help, but if we’re serious about helping those whom we can’t so easily see, whether because their problems are not so obvious or because their problems haven’t yet manifested, we have to take a broader view.

That means a society that draws people toward fulfilling lives of familial stability and self-motivated work.  And while the constituencies who see a Democrat vote as part of their cultural inheritance won’t like it, the policies on which we’re currently focused are clearly not serving that end.  The moral corruption of the government plantation is that ignoring the structural justice that brings stability and prosperity, but that requires a resilient and sometimes unpopular maturity, produces ample opportunities to display visible righteousness on behalf of those whom our ignorance has harmed.

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Redefining Humanity with No Allowance for Dissent

On National Review Online, Wesley Smith writes about a push in the United Kingdom to publicly fund womb transplants for men who want to become women:

This would be wrong on so many levels, ranging from safety concerns for both patient and potential future baby, the prospect of doctors and hospitals being forced to participate even if it violates their religious or moral beliefs–already beginning to happen–to the question of whether going to such extremes to satisfy individual yearnings constitutes wise and public policy.

But make no mistake: Powerful political and cultural forces will be–are–pushing us hard in this direction.

An advocate for the policy quoted in the Daily Mail “predicts” that this technology will eventually be in demand among not only homosexual men, but also heterosexual men who want to experience childbirth.

Smith focuses on the way in which this episode illustrates the impossibility of ever controlling health care costs, when the incentive for providers and government is constantly to broaden the services for which other people must pay.  I’m not sure, though, that Smith isn’t writing with his tongue in his cheek, because health care costs and the concerns he articulates in the above quotation are among the least of the concerns in the envisioned brave new world.

Go right to the profound:  If this sort of technology advances to perfection, people could install and remove organs as they desire them, which would make us more like organic machines than human beings.

We’re coming to a decision point at which individuals and society will have to decide in a very fundamental way what it means to be human, or even to exist.  It greatly aggravates the dangers of that decision point if we accept a pervasive attitude that everything’s a civil right at public expense and those who disagree must be forced to accept and financially participate radical changes almost from the beginning of their possibility.

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4th of July Reading in Augustine Day by Day

When my family visited La Salette this past Christmastime, I picked up an impressively bound daily reader of St. Augustine writings, compiled by John Rotelle and published by Catholic Book Publishing Corp.  The 4th of July one is, I’d suggest, inspired for our times.  From Sermon 30:

Bad times! Troublesome times! This is what people are saying. Let our lives be good and the times will be good. For we make our own times. Such as we are, such are the times.

What can we do? Maybe we cannot convert masses of people to a good life. But let the few who do hear live well. Let the few who live well endure the many who live badly.

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Budget Season: Opportunity for Articulating a Vision for Rhode Island

Every year, this time of year, the budget for the State of Rhode Island comes out and, accompanied with surrounding legislation (much of it premised, one can infer, on quid pro quo for budget votes) shows the vision of the insiders who run our state.  Every year, life in Rhode Island becomes more restrictive, business becomes harder, government budgets go up.

Earlier in this legislative season, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity put out a pair of “Hey, Dude!” radio ads illustrating the point from the perspective of somebody who wants more freebies and somebody who sees the opportunities inherent in a society out from under government’s thumb.

For a little fun, here’s a pair that I’ve put together.

Open post for audio.

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An Escalation of Violence

Many of us on the right have had the general sense that progressives have turned the violence meter up a bit in the past year or two, but the list of incidents that Dave Brooks and Benjamin Decatur compiled for the Daily Caller is still disconcerting — not the least because it is clearly an incomplete first pass:

In creating the list, TheDCNF reviewed numerous articles detailing attacks and violent threats against conservatives and Trump supporters. While there are examples of anonymous threats, TheDCNF chose to include only those that resulted in the cancelling of events and two to members of Congress deemed credible. Some instances of violence between rival protestors were not included as it was difficult to ascertain who initiated the event.

I’d be willing to entertain the notion that there is a comparable list for the other side, consisting of stories that haven’t been as well covered within my ordinary media diet, but just as my sense is that this one seems incomplete, I’d expect a comparable mirror-image list to be shorter and to smuggle in items of arguable relevance.

Whatever the case, let’s hope recent events lead those shocked by President Trump’s election to engage in some lasting self-reflection, rather than a brief pause in the overheated rhetoric.  Inasmuch as the Left’s rage at seeing its political power slip will continue, I expect we’ll see only a limited calming for a few news cycles.

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Charity, Corruption, and Government

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking, recently, about the moral calculations around government’s involvement in charity, whether through welfare programs or grants to private charitable organizations.

My view is that charity isn’t government’s business.  When a person gives of his or her own wealth for charitable reasons, he or she has made a moral decision, and the recipient has some degree of accountability to the giver and an imperative to try to become a giver rather than a recipient.  When government agents give, it is of other people’s wealth, meaning that it is a confiscation, which creates moral complications for those directing the funds, and it creates a sense of entitlement and dependency in the recipient.

That said, I think other arguments can be made for some government expenditures other than the charitable, and moreover, I wouldn’t find it specious for somebody to make an argument for a “good society’s” use of government for charity.  I don’t think I’d find such an argument persuasive, but it can be made sincerely.

In response, I might offer something like Pope Francis’s thoughts on corruption:

Corruption, Francis wrote, in its Italian etymological root, means “a tear, break, decomposition, and disintegration.”

The life of a human being can be understood in the context of his many relationships: with God, with his neighbor, with creation, the Pope said.

“This threefold relationship – in which man’s self-reflection also falls – gives context and sense to his actions and, in general, to his life,” but these are destroyed by corruption.

Nobody can doubt that empowering people to take money from one group to give it to another creates the potential for corruption, not the least in that it interferes with appropriate relationships to each other and God.  In this context, when the pope writes that “we must all work together, Christians, non-Christians, people of all faiths and non-believers, to combat this form of blasphemy, this cancer that weighs our lives,” one could see it in part as an exhortation toward personal charity.  The more need we can relieve through voluntary action, the less pressure there will be for the corruption of charity through government.

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The Transformation of Vermont

Take it as a warning or as an illustration of opportunity, but Rick Holmes’s history, in the Fall River Herald, of Vermont’s political transformation is a worthwhile read.

Basically, the interstate highway system brought “flatlanders” to the state for foliage viewing, skiing, and indulgence in a hippy aesthetic.  By the time the indigenous conservatives tried to push back, it was too late:

“The hippies won,” says John Gregg, a Vermont journalist whose office is a short walk from the Connecticut River. In a small enough place, the influx of new citizens, even in modest numbers, can change a state’s political trajectory.

Rhode Island is different, of course.  Our population is a bit bigger, and the particular flavor of progressivism isn’t hippy socialism as much as insider socialism.  An historically different flavor of immigration brought with it a little more cultural conservatism and a little bit less libertarianism.  Moreover, the “influx of new citizens” affecting Rhode Island isn’t the migration of relatively privileged progressives, but rather the deliberately lured clients for the company state/government plantation.

These differences bring with them unique challenges, but in both places it’s too late for an ordinary political campaign to change things.  Instead, we have to change the local culture, which is no easy task when the people who see the right way forward tend just to leave.

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What the Culture Cares About

Here’s an interesting cultural snapshot, with Dan McGowan reporting for WPRI on an arrest in Providence.

According to the article, a middle-aged man was driving alongside two boys on bikes and disturbed them enough that they reported him to the police.  After a search, the cops found a couple of street-fighting weapons.

What makes the story interesting is that the headline mentions only that the guy “yelled [a] racial slur at [a] Providence cop.”  Why is that the news?

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, but it raises questions about the purpose of journalism.  Objectively, one would think that the core benefit of reporting this incident would be to alert residents to potential threats in their neighborhoods — including, broadly, a general sense of how safe they are, particularly for children.

What’s the news value of a guy under the duress of being arrested lashing out at a cop with a racial slur?  Is it to give people the sense that racism still pervades our society?  If that were true, though, it seems to me that a single example wouldn’t be a story, because racial slurs would be so common.  (One wonders, by the by, how often white cops are called names by those whom they’ve arrested.)

Or maybe the news value is just that our society (or at least a certain segment thereof) is obsessed with seeking out signs of racism for promotion with the paradoxical stated goal of erasing it entirely.

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In Large Part, the Deep State Self Dug

Glenn Reynolds’s weekly USA Today column for this week is worth some consideration:

[Columbia Law Professor Philip] Hamburger explains that the prerogative powers once exercised by English kings, until they were circumscribed after a resulting civil war, have now been reinvented and lodged in administrative agencies, even though the United States Constitution was drafted specifically to prevent just such abuses. But today, the laws that actually affect people and businesses are seldom written by Congress; instead they are created by administrative agencies through a process of “informal rulemaking,” a process whose chief virtue is that it’s easy for the rulers to engage in, and hard for the ruled to observe or influence. Non-judicial administrative courts decide cases, and impose penalties, without a jury or an actual judge. And the protections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (like the requirement for a judge-issued search warrant before a search) are often inapplicable.

At some point, “consent of the governed” becomes more like a veneer that gives the governing class license to do whatever they want. L’état c’est nous.

Combine this Deep State with the budding feudalism in California, as described by Joel Kotkin:

Unlike its failed predecessor, this new, greener socialism seeks not to weaken, but rather to preserve, the emerging class structure. Brown and his acolytes have slowed upward mobility by environment restrictions that have cramped home production of all kinds, particularly the building of moderate-cost single-family homes on the periphery. All of this, at a time when millennials nationwide, contrary to the assertion of Brown’s “smart growth” allies, are beginning to buy cars, homes and move to the suburbs.

People whose policy preferences conveniently protect their own wealth seek to use government set basic policy preferences that are conveniently in line with bureaucrats who seek to protect their power.  One way or another, this alliance will be broken; the question is whether it happens through reform or revolution.

Think carefully, progressives — and even more-reasonable liberals.  As much as you hate him (perhaps because of how much you hate him), President Trump may be your last chance to allow the reform path.

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Rhode Islanders Are Voting With Their Feet

Perhaps nothing is more telling about whether Americans see a state as providing sufficient opportunities for prosperity and a better quality of life than whether or not they are flocking to or fleeing from its borders. No other measure paints a more realistic picture of whether or not a particular state is an ideal place to raise a family or build a career than how people “vote with their feet.”

At the Center, we know that that the high levels of taxation and over-regulation imposed in the ever-growing state budget is the main culprit in causing Rhode Island’s stagnant performance.

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A Reminder for Faith in Our Times

Baylor University history professor Thomas Kidd recently offered a useful reminder of the perspective of Benjamin Franklin, which would be timely for us to consider these days, as a society.  Writing about Franklin’s respect for, but personal ambivalence toward, religion, Kidd goes on:

Then came the Revolutionary War. Its weight, along with the shock of victory and independence, made Franklin think that God, in some mysterious way, must be moving in American history. “The longer I live,” he told the delegates in Philadelphia, “the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth, That God governs in the affairs of men.”

He repeatedly cited verses from the Bible to make his case, quoting Psalm 127: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Without God’s aid, Franklin contended, the Founding Fathers would “succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.” At the Revolutionary War’s outset, as he reminded delegates, they had prayed daily, often in that same Philadelphia hall, for divine protection. “And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?”

My own understanding of how this all works is, in essence, that “God governs in the affairs of men” through our decision to follow Him.  He wouldn’t look upon the Constitutional Convention and say, “Well, fine. If you’re not going to pray, I’ll turn my back on you.”  Rather, the decision to pray or not affected whether the delegates were of unified mind in the direction of goodness, which is God’s hallmark.

The United States has done a great deal of good in the world, albeit with a great deal of darkness mixed in, too.  How things might have gone differently for our country and the world had the Constitutional Convention prayed, we cannot know, but we should take as a warning Franklin’s handwritten astonishment that his fellow delegates “thought Prayers unnecessary!”

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Enter the Era of Vampires

You could interpret my lethargy, this afternoon, in one of two ways.  I’ve had a busy and productive week, so perhaps it’s the waning stamina of an older man that keeps me from wanting to write much of anything.  Or maybe it’s that I’m still young enough not to have lost that student’s sense that a June Friday ought to draw your eyes out the window in a search for summer.

Whatever the case, I’ve been holding on to this link, looking for an opening:

It might sound like science fiction, or a recent episode of “Silicon Valley,” but a start-up called Ambrosia is charging $8,000 for blood transfusions from young people.

About 100 people have signed up to receive an infusion, founder Dr. Jesse Karmazin said Wednesday at the Code Conference.

And here we go.  On the one hand, my libertarian leanings lead me to ask, “So what?”  The kids have blood, and people are willing to pay for it.  On the other hand… well… this is wealthy people buying the blood of less-wealthy people for speculative rejuvenating purposes.  You don’t have to be a novelist to see how this could go wrong.

On first consideration, too, there’s no good way to go about this.  The nightmare scenario involves rich people creating a market for the blood of the poor, which creates either opportunity for blood theft or a likelihood of exploitation.  As it is at the moment, the donors don’t know their blood is being used for this purpose, which means they may be undervaluing it on the false expectation that they’re helping people in emergency situations.

Oh, yeah, and what about all those people who need blood for immediate reasons?  Market forces will devalue their use, or drive their price up.

By its extremity, this matter brings us back to first principles.  I’d be disinclined to interfere with the market and people’s liberty, in general, but that would require a stronger culture — one capable of shaming those who might exploit this particular freedom like vampires.

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