The True Cost of Freedom

This week I saw two news stories that seem totally unrelated. I'm sad to say they are not. Read on, then think about it.

In Iowa City, a man named Sonny Iovino died on November 7th at the age of 55. Two days earlier the police had found this Vietnam-era veteran lying on the ground, trying to dig himself into a mulched garden near a heating exhaust vent. He was lightly dressed, confused, incoherent and barefoot. Police officers convinced him to put on his shoes and leave the property on which he was trespassing.

After two more calls the same day that found Iovino in various states of undress, police finally took him to see a psychiatrist at the VA Medical Center.

Iovino asked the psychiatrist for medication, but the doctor said he first needed an evaluation. When the doctor asked to take his vital signs, Iovino made what reports called an inappropriate comment. "I take that as a no," UI Police Officer Alton Poole reported the doctor as saying. The doctor released Iovino back to police.

A blood-alcohol test showed Iovino hadn't been drinking, but a medical center social worker said Iowa City's Shelter House wouldn't take him in his condition, reports showed.

The officers arrested Iovino and took him to jail, but deputies there wouldn't take him either. Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek told The Gazette the jail won't admit anyone with an immediate medical need. He said the doctor's note indicated Iovino needed hospitalization for mental illness.

Police cited Iovino for criminal trespass and released him with notice to show up for court on Nov. 20. He signed the charge and left the jail, walking south along Court Street — toward the Benton Street bridge, the reports said. [source]

Two days later Iovino was found under that same bridge, dead of hypothermia.

In the area where I work - which is not at all poor - it's common to see people standing on street corners, holding little signs saying they need money. For a long time I ignored them, other than to make sure my car doors were locked if one of them got too close. Lazy bums, I would think to myself. Why don't they get a job?

A year or two ago I heard a news story where the disguised reporter stood at an off-ramp just to see how much money he could collect. It wasn't much - a few dollars a day. Why would anyone in his right mind do it, then? The answer is these people aren't in their right mind. Most are mentally ill. You can't tell from behind the glass of your comfortably cooled or heated vehicle, but even if someone hired them it's doubtful they could stay employed for long. Years ago they would have been safely institutionalized. Now we abandon them to life on the streets.

So I changed my policy. If I can do it without creating a traffic hazard, I roll down the window and give them whatever spare change I have. Won't they just use it to buy drugs or booze? Probably. But maybe not. If there is any chance I can make a difference for someone in need, shouldn't I try?

Often I give them some money and then feel sad and inadequate. I wonder if I'm just assuaging my own guilt. The fact is I could do a lot more, and I don't. But if I do nothing I feel even worse. If I drive past one of those corners and the "regulars" I've come to recognize aren't standing there, I worry what might have happened to them. If the goal is to make yourself feel good, this isn't the way to do it.

It is, of course, perfectly legitimate to ask why the VA physician wouldn't treat Sonny Iovino, why he couldn't get into a shelter, and why the laws prevented people from helping him unless he wanted it. All are good questions, but answering them now won't help Sonny. We as a society decided that the most important thing was that he have his freedom; never mind that he was incapable of knowing what to do with it.

The rest of us have freedom, too. How do we use it? That brings up the other news story I saw this week. In Mesquite, Texas, a mall opened at 1:00 AM on the the Friday after Thanksgiving to begin the annual consumer spending season. Who would get up at such an hour just to go shopping? Plenty of people, apparently. Watch this video (via Rod) for images of what rampant materialism does to otherwise sane Americans.

How many folks are willing to go out at 1:00 on a cold winter night and bring a little cheer to the people shivering under bridges? Not so many. How many would take 10% of what they spent at the mall that night and give it to people who don't get to go shopping? Again, not many. It's hard to blame them. Guys like Sonny Iovino aren't fun to be around. He was dirty, belligerent, and probably didn't smell very good. You know what else he was? He was a man, created in the image and likeness of God. He was, in that way if no other, like us.

There are people like Sonny Iovino in my city, and in yours. We all have a choice. We can pretend they don't exist. We can assume someone else will help them. We can return to our comfortable homes. Or we can remember what the God who created Sonny, and the rest of us, promised: ...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an editorial about Sonny Iovino's death. Read it here.

Related Posts:
Too Many Barns
Pampering The Pooches
Millionaires Everywhere
Real Charity
Making A Difference
Dressed For Success

External Links:
Mobile Loaves & Fishes
Salvation Army
Treatment Advocacy Center

Golden Compass Points The Wrong Way

It seems that almost every time a good book is made into a movie, the result is a disappointment. Stories are twisted, characters changed, important themes lost. So when an atheist author openly admits something like "My books are about killing God," it isn't inevitable that the film version will share that goal. But when the film is aimed directly at your children, do you really want to find out?

Such is the case with The Golden Compass, set for release on December 7. Based on a trilogy by British author Phillip Pullman, it appears at first glance to be a childhood fantasy featuring talking animals, good vs. evil, and a precocious young heroine. However it comes from the mind of a man who doesn't believe in God and clearly wishes no one else did, either.

Of course atheists are entitled to write books, produce movies, and spread their beliefs however they wish. The rest of us are in turn entitled to ignore them, which is probably the best response the The Golden Compass. The problem is that the nature of this film and the promotions surrounding it will lure children into the story. If this then leads them to read Pullman's books, bigger problems will follow.

... "The Golden Compass" (1995) is the first book in Pullman's trilogy. The second book is titled "The Subtle Knife" (1997) and it is followed by "The Amber Spyglass" (2000).

Collectively, the trilogy is known as "His Dark Materials," a phrase taken from John Milton's "Paradise Lost." This is appropriately titled in my opinion, since each book gets progressively darker -- both in the intensity with which Pullman attacks the Catholic Church and the Judeo-Christian concept of God, as well as the stridency with which he promotes atheism.

For example, one of the main supporting characters, Dr. Mary Malone, is a former Catholic nun who abandoned her vocation to pursue sex and science. The reader does not meet her until the second book, by which time the young reader is already engrossed in the story. By the third book, Dr. Malone is engaging in occult practices to lead the two main characters, a 12-year-old boy and girl, to sleep in the same bed and engage in -- at the very least -- heavy kissing. This is the act through which they renew the multiple universes created by Pullman.

Another example is Pullman's portrayal of the Judeo-Christian God. Pullman refers to him as "The Authority," although a number of passages make clear that this is the God of the Bible. The Authority is a liar and a mere angel, and as we discover in the third book, senile as well. He was locked in some sort of jewel and held prisoner by the patriarch Enoch, who is now called Metatron and who rules in the Authority's name. When the children find the jewel and accidentally release the Authority, he falls apart and dies. [source]

Aside from the obvious anti-Christian themes, The Golden Compass is specifically anti-Catholic. The evil priests, the "Magisterium," and the portrayal of the Vatican in the books are bigotry that would cause a public outcry if it were directed at any other group.

To cut to the chase, The Golden Compass is a trap. The release date just before Christmas is no accident; clearly Pullman hopes children who see the film will then ask for the books as Christmas gifts. I saw a trailer for it (just before Bella, strangely enough) and I can tell you the special effects were slick and well-done. Kids will want to see this movie. Parents like these who let kids "make their own decisions" could well make it a success at the box office. Christian parents who care about protecting their children's faith don't need to be part of it.

UPDATE: Philip Pullman Calls Critics "Nitwits"

Viva Cristo Rey!

An unfortunate fact of life in 2007 is that the word "martyr" conjures up for most of us images of Islamic suicide bombers. In fact, the first martyrs were Christians who died at the hands of Romans, hundreds of years before Mohammed came along. Unlike today's terrorists, the first Christian martyrs did not seek to die for their faith. Many stories show them accepting their fate, and as the moment grew closer they often embraced it. They did not try to take others with them.

Americans have a hard time understanding the reality of true martyrdom. Other than a few cases of early missionaries being killed by Indians, it's just not part of our heritage. Martyrdom is something that happened a long time ago in places far, far away - but not always. 1927 was not so long ago, and Mexico is not so far away.

In 1917 Mexico adopted a new constitution that, among other things, imposed a number of restrictions on the religious freedom. The specific target was the Catholic Church but others were affected as well. Churches were forbidden to operate schools and their ability to own property was severely restricted. Ministers were stripped of the right to vote and ordered not to wear clerical garb in public or speak about political issues. Worship services outside of church buildings were outlawed.

For the first few years these provisions were only sporadically enforced. In 1924 Plutarco Elias Calles took over as president and soon began oppressing the Church with gusto. A resistance movement called the Cristeros arose in parts of Mexico.

Keep in mind, this is not that long ago. In 1927 Ronald Reagan was a teenager, Billy Graham a child, and George H.W. Bush a toddler. Josef Ratzinger was an infant and Karol Wojtyla was a small child. People are alive today who saw these events in Mexico. It's not ancient history.

The Calles government was ruthless. Between 1926 and 1934, the number of Catholic priests in Mexico dropped from 4,500 to 334. Most were expelled or left the country voluntarily, but at least 40 priests were killed. One was a young Jesuit named Miguel Agustin Pro.

Padre Pro served his flock faithfully despite the very difficult conditions. He used a variety of disguises to reach people who needed him, sometimes dressing as a beggar and arriving in the middle of the night to perform baptisms. He reportedly donned a police uniform in order to visit condemned prisoners in jail.

With an assassination attempt on an ex-president as pretext, in 1927 Padre Pro was arrested along with his brothers Humberto and Roberto. Another man confessed to the crime and said the Pro brothers had nothing to do with it. Nonetheless, President Calles ordered Padre Pro executed while sparing his brothers. Calles wanted to use the execution to inspire fear and so invited reporters to document everything. We have photographs of the event.

On November 23, 1927 - eighty years ago today - Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J., was led from his cell to a courtyard where the firing squad waited. After blessing each of the soldiers, he asked for a moment to pray. This last request was granted and he knelt on the ground. Then, refusing a blindfold, he faced his executioners with arms outstretched in imitation of Christ on the Cross. He clutched a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other.

As the soldiers prepared their weapons, Padre Pro shouted "May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, thou knowest I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!" Just before they fired, he cried out "Viva Cristo Rey!" "Long live Christ the King!"

Padre Pro lived through the first rifle volley, and a soldier killed him with a bullet at point blank range. He was 36 years old.

Fifty-two years later, another priest came to Mexico and was greeted with open arms by a different president. This was no ordinary priest; it was the Bishop of Rome. You see, the gates of hell did not prevail against God's church; they could not prevail. In 1988 Padre Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II - the first step toward sainthood.

Will there be more such martyrs? Times change. Constitutions can be amended, or just ignored. There are more than a few people in the United States right now who would like to do what President Calles did in Mexico. Will today's Christians have the courage of Padre Pro?

I'm afraid some of us may find out.

Padre Pro web site
Video dramatization (in Spanish)

Parents Not Freaked By Freaking Teens

From The Wall Street Journal

ARGYLE, Texas -- Karen Miller, 53 years old, saw her first "freak dance" four years ago when she was chaperoning a high-school dance attended by her freshman daughter.

One boy was up close to a girl's back, bumping and grinding to the pounding beat of the music.

"I thought, 'That's just dadgum nasty,'" Ms. Miller recalls. "It really had me sick to my stomach."

Ms. Miller took the initiative and broke it up. School employees at the dance seemed oblivious, she says.

They're oblivious no longer. A new resolve by school officials in this booming Dallas suburb to crack down on sexually suggestive dancing -- and skimpy clothing -- has sparked a rancorous debate over what boundaries should be set for teenagers' self-expression. Argyle joins a long list of other schools around the country that have banned the hip-hop inspired dancing known as "grinding" or "freak dancing."

This story sounds remarkably like a replay of a certain 1980s movie, but is apparently the real thing. The video that WSJ provides doesn't look so offensive to me. However, it's only a demonstration and not actual events. (It's worth watching just to hear the monotone NPR-like reporter say words like "freaking.") The school superintendent is insistent.

"This is not just shaking your booty," he said. "This is pelvis-to-pelvis physical contact in the private areas...and then moving around."

To make his point, Mr. Ceyanes held a community meeting and played a video pulled from YouTube demonstrating freak dancing. "I cannot imagine that there is a father in this room who could watch this video and be all right with a young man dancing with his daughter in that fashion," he told the gathering.

Many parents support Mr. Ceyanes's actions. But another vocal faction has been harshly critical of the new superintendent, creating a deep rift in the community. These parents defend the children of Argyle as "good kids," and say they should be trusted to dance and dress the way they want.

Angry, Internet-empowered parents have searched public records to dig up personal details of Mr. Ceyanes's past, blogging spitefully about his divorce and his earlier marriage and fatherhood at the age of 17. In community chat rooms, some people were calling him a hypocrite and a power-crazed autocrat showing too much interest in teenage girls.

Supporters fought back on their own blogs, where one posted pictures of Argyle students in skin-baring clothing culled from MySpace and Facebook pages. "Check your kids profiles," the blogger wrote. "These are some of the pictures your little angels have posted on the World Wide Web." The post was later removed, and the anonymous blogger refused to discuss the matter or give his or her name in an email exchange, citing fears of retaliation. "We had several comments that were extremely threatening," the blogger wrote.

Without judging the propriety of the dancing itself, the laissez-faire attitude of some parents is disturbing. Those who believe their young teenagers "should be trusted to dance and dress the way they want" apparently don't care enough to even find out what is going on.

News Flash for the Parents of Argyle: teenagers, including yours, routinely "want" things that aren't good for them. They even "want" things that are harmful. Your job as a parent is not to simply let them do what they "want." You owe them guidance and boundaries so they can make a good transition to the responsibilities of adulthood. Maybe the freak dancing is not a problem. I haven't seen it so I don't know. But isn't it a good idea to at least open your eyes and look before you decide there is nothing to worry about?

Yes, it's important to give teenagers some degree of freedom so they can learn from their mistakes. It is also true that teenagers who willingly engage in foreplay on the dance floor probably didn't get the right lessons earlier in life. There may not be much you can do once they reach that point - except pray that they avoid the physical and emotional damage that often comes from premature sexual activity.

It's going to be an uphill battle, according to dance experts. In the age of round-the-clock music videos on television, iPods and computers, teenagers are just copying what they see. Grinding has been around for a long time, but it has been getting raunchier as videos keep pushing the envelope. "If you're dancing to a song that says 'shake that, shake that, shake that,' it's kind of hard not to shake that," says Gino Johnson, a Dallas area choreographer and producer specializing in hip hop.

Related Posts:
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The Allure of Power

I recently discovered a very interesting blog called Rebellion. The owner, Mike Tuggle, seems to share much of my concern about the state of our culture, and where it is taking us. Here's what he said about the Rev. Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani.

What attracted Robertson to Giuliani is the allure of State Power, the new object of post-Christian America’s veneration. It’s not a failing that’s confined to Robertson, but to all who support any and all demonstrations of the Empire’s military might. We Americans are all pagans now, and emperor worship has supplanted both the ideals and traditions of the American Republic as well as the foundations of our Christian faith. Power, our power, intoxicates and defines us at the same time. We may pay lip service to our old traditions, but with a few new definitions, we’re good to go on to our next imperial conquest. So when we invoke the core principles of the American tradition, we now affirm loudly, and with straight faces, that the Founders intended us to roam the world to root out deviations from the one, true system, which we still fool ourselves into believing is the American Way—which we still try to fool others into believing is a universal truth meant for all. Therefore, our armies do not conquer, but liberate. And those who stand in our way are so blind to our noble intentions that they deserve what they get.

This is the attitude that grips us now. That’s what Robertson has actually endorsed. And the longer the rot of empire eats away at us, the worse we will all become. Rudy’s outrageous antics will soon become the norm, and the death-spiral of empire will only accelerate. May God have mercy on us.

Read the rest

Ron Paul vs. the Neocons II

My favorite neoconservative, Donald Douglas, is once again going off the deep end about Ron Paul. He can't seem to decide whether Paul is a major threat to the Republic or a joke with no chance of electoral success. These are, of course, mutually exclusive positions, and the strain of holding them both at the same time is causing him no small amount of cognitive dissonance.

I've addressed this subject before but Donald seems to have forgotten, if he ever understood in the first place. Someone who is actually interested in a reasoned discussion would try to understand the opponent's position in order to refute it more convincingly. Donald does not do this. Instead he stands by the side of the road like a bag lady, shouting insults at passers-by. Nothing he says makes sense but he seems totally convinced of his own genius. That such a person managed to get a Ph.D. is a serious indictment of graduate-level education in this country.

Read the comments from this post and you'll see what I mean. Numerous people - including me - try to talk sense to Donald but none come close to succeeding. Donald is hung up on the fact that people from assorted fringe groups are uniting behind Ron Paul instead of a "legitimate" candidate. A more rational person, assuming he wants to see the White House stay in Republican hands, would quickly realize this is actually a good thing. The GOP needs all the help it can get. Another commenter named Rhys had this to say:

It's not hard to explain Paul's support among fringe elements. He stands for freedom and liberty, and fringe elements feel oppressed.

I think that it is amazing. What other politician today takes donations and claims support from both racists and integrationists, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, military and civilian, Democrat and Republican? It's not hard to explain Ron Paul's ground-swelling of support from all sides (with the exception of big government and socialist interests) because it is the natural consequence of standing up for the values that united us over 220 years ago.

What I would like to see explained is why Republicans are not rallying behind the only Republican who seems capable of enticing Democrats to cross party lines in the general election? I'm starting to think that Republicans don't want to win. Maybe, they want to be in the minority party and lose the office of the president. I want to vote for a Republican that has a semblance of a chance at beating the Democrats in the general election.

This makes such breathtaking good sense that Donald will probably ignore the actual substance of it and instead accuse Rhys of being a neo-nazi sympathizer.

Donald also can't process the idea that Ron Paul as president is the last thing any real neo-nazi (as opposed to people who are just racists that like to wear brown shirts) should want. His philosophy is the polar opposite of state-centered fascism. To the extent any such people are supporting Ron Paul, they are working against their own interest.

Not content to attack people only on his own blog, today Donald pursued me back to Driving Out The Snakes and, for some unknown reason, chose my recent Feline Music post as the best place to resume haranguing me about Ron Paul. Hopefully this post will serve as a more relevant place to leave future incoherent arguments and insults.

No More Ho Ho Ho

At first I thought this had to be a joke, but it seems real.

Santas in Australia's largest city have been told not to use Father Christmas's traditional "ho ho ho" greeting because it may be offensive to women, it was reported Thursday.

Sydney's Santa Clauses have instead been instructed to say "ha ha ha" instead, the Daily Telegraph reported.

One disgruntled Santa told the newspaper a recruitment firm warned him not to use "ho ho ho" because it could frighten children and was too close to "ho", a US slang term for prostitute. [source]

Where do I begin? Any woman who would be offended to hear Santa Claus say "ho ho ho" is out of her mind and needs to get psychological help. What's next? Consider the alternatives:
  • Ha ha ha promotes the stereotype that fat people are jolly.
  • Hi hi hi implies that Santa is a user of illegal drugs.
  • Hu hu hu may be offensive to owl lovers.
  • Hee hee hee will be heard by radical feminists as a male chauvinist taunt.
Unless someone invents a new vowel, it appears that Santas throughout the English-speaking world will have no choice but to stand there in silence and stare at the kiddies. Children who expected a jolly old man will be sorely disappointed. Before you know it, Santa will be regarded as the creepy man in red who appears every year to frighten youngsters. Merry Christmas!

Feline Music

With 6.7 million views on YouTube, this cat named Nora is officially a star. Click here if you don't see the embedded video. There's also a sequel if you want more.

Nora's sublime and thoughtful notes are a vast improvement over most of what passes for music today. Hopefully she will devote all of her nine lives to composition and give us a full symphony.

Hat tip: Sister Mary Martha

Rudy & The Christians

I have a couple of theories about Rudy Giuliani’s continued high support among conservative Christians. Pat Robertson’s endorsement is only the latest evidence that Rudy’s softness on abortion and other social issues isn’t a deal killer.

First, most evangelicals and conservative Catholics really don’t think about these things very much. A substantial minority are very devoted and active in pro-life causes, of course. These are the people who stage the sidewalk prayer vigils, staff the crisis pregnancy centers, and write blogs. They make a lot of noise but in the big picture there aren’t that many of them. Most people are far more concerned about things that they think relate to their everyday lives.

Rod Dreher recently quoted a CBS News survey of white evangelicals which found that the four most important elections issues were health care, the Iraq war, immigration and the economy. Abortion is way down the list. With these priorities, it’s not hard to see why people are willing to overlook Rudy’s weak spots.

The second point is something I can’t prove with hard data but it makes intuitive sense. Most people hate to make important decisions by themselves. They would much rather be told what to do and what to think. As the World War II “Greatest Generation” leaves the scene and people who grew up with LBJ’s welfare state take control, there is a common attitude that the government will take care of us. People look to the president as a kind of National Dad who gives us money so we can go out and party.

Because the terrorists threaten our right to party, we need Dad to protect us from them. We feel better when Dad is a tough guy who can beat up anyone who gets in his way. Rudy Giuliani looks, talks and acts like a tough guy. Therefore, people want him to be their Dad.

The same is true, to a lesser degree, for John McCain and Fred Thompson. The non-tough guys like Romney, Huckabee and Paul don’t have this image, and that’s why they aren’t likely to win. The objective fact of whether a candidate promotes the right policies is just not important. Retailers have long known that packaging is what sells. It’s equally true in politics - and Giuliani has great packaging. As long as he makes a few noises about being a religious guy, even most Christians won't look much deeper.

In fact, I could argue that evangelical Christians are even more likely than the general public to fall into this category. Just look at the "megachurches" that draw in thousands of people every Sunday. Many - and perhaps most - are built around a pastor with a strong personality who uses his sermons to tell people what they want to hear. They "vote" for this pastor by choosing to attend his church instead of another. These churches are a tiny microcosm of the American electorate.

We’ve all had the experience of buying a product that looks great on the shelf, only to find after we open it that it doesn’t do the things we thought it would. We find the same thing with politicians after we elect them. Christians who vote for Giuliani because they think he will keep them “safe” may find themselves in more danger than ever. Too bad presidents don't come with a warranty.

Mom and Dad Wanted Me Dead

This is bizarre.

A doctor can't be held liable for resuscitating a baby who was born without a heartbeat and survived with severe disabilities, the state Supreme Court says.

The baby's parents filed a malpractice lawsuit after the baby's 2004 birth. They claimed doctors in Vancouver, Wash., were negligent when they continued to resuscitate the baby for almost half an hour, after he was born without a heartbeat.

The parents also said the medical team should have gotten their consent before continuing to revive the baby.

But the Supreme Court justices say the doctor can't be held liable for failing to stop resuscitation efforts on a baby. [source]

More detail can be found in the Washington State Supreme Court opinion here. Nichole Stewart-Graves was 35 weeks pregnant in 2004 when she began having contractions. She went to the hospital with her husband, Todd Graves. Up to that point there had been no problems in the pregnancy. Nurses detected that the baby's heartbeat was failing and Nichole gave permission for an emergency C-section. She was then placed under anesthetic.

When the baby was born doctors could not detect any heartbeat and began working to resuscitate him. After 24 minutes the baby's heart began to beat. He survived but is permanently disabled with cerebral palsy, mental retardation and many other serious problems. He will require extensive care for his entire life. The parents named their baby boy "Liam."

The parents sued the doctor, the hospital, and everyone else in sight on the grounds that they should have let little Liam die. Yes, that's right - not "wrongful death" but "wrongful life." They say the doctors actually worked too hard to save their baby's life.

The court opinion is strange to read because Liam is, technically, the one filing the suit. His parents speak on his behalf. So you get odd sentences like "Liam made the same allegations as his parents regarding the lack of informed consent and negligence for continuing the resuscitation." Apparently, we are supposed to believe that Liam really wanted to die and the evil doctor should have just read his mind.

It is undeniably true that Liam will never have a normal life. Nevertheless, he has Life, and all life is a gift from God. It is not our place to give it or take it. Had God wanted Liam to die, then nothing the doctors did would have helped. The fact that he was saved suggests God wants Liam on this Earth - alive.

We see similar things when unborn babies are pre-natally diagnosed with conditions like Down's Syndrome. Parents often decide to abort such babies because they won't have "quality of life." This is the first step down a very slippery slope. Once we begin deciding that some lives just aren't worthwhile, where does it end? A lot of old people don't have much quality of life, either. How about poor people? Blind people? Mentally ill people? Where does it end?

Fortunately, in this case the Washington Supreme Court agreed that the doctors were not negligent. They were simply doing what doctors are supposed to do. Justice won in the end, but this case truly has no winners. Unlike some parents who develop a heroic love and dedication for disabled children, this couple clearly wishes their son had never been born. It is unclear to what degree they are involved in his care. It sure sounds like they regard him as a burden rather than a blessing.

If, someday, Liam is able to understand what happened, what will he think? Mom and dad wanted me to die? What a horrible way to go through a life that is already hard enough.

Hat tip: WWWtW

Happy Veteran's Day

However noble or evil you may think any particular war is, those who answer their nation's call deserve our thanks. Most do not desire, and will not seek, any special recognition. So it is fitting that we have a day to honor them.

Some veterans saw the worst of war. Others stood in wait. All sacrificed much for the greater good. On this day, find one and say "Thanks."

Platonism at the Gym

If you think the religious zealot is hateful to the spiritually indifferent or to those who actively reject his belief, just try to talk to a true Gym Bunny or a Gym Jock. Their utter disdain for your physical weakness, your lack of motivation, your ill-defined abs and flabby butt, their venomous contempt for your high calorie, high fat diet and your ignorance of proper supplementation—all of these combine in a heart so spiritually pure in its hatred for the body that these Gym Bunnies and Jocks would scare the dungeon masters of the Spanish Inquisition with their zealotry!

Make no mistake: their torturous routines on those robotic machines are not about loving the flesh…no, no, the flesh must be denied, tamed, shaped, and beaten into submission.

Friendly Advice: Sell The Boat

Health care is a growing political issue in the U.S., and for good reason. Nobody is happy with the system we have and no one can agree how to fix it, either. There are too many competing interests with loads of money at stake. This week I heard a story that illustrates the problem.

A person I know - male, mid-twenties - developed a condition that is very painful. The pain comes and goes. A few days it ago it became so severe he went to the emergency room. The doctor there said he needed to see a specialist, gave him some pain medication and sent him home.

This gentleman is a self-employed craftsman and appears to have a decent income. I know he recently bought a very expensive boat. He does not, however, have health insurance. He also doesn't have the $250 it takes to see the specialist who treats problems like his. How someone can afford a boat but not be able to come up with the cash to get himself out of excruciating pain, I don't know. It makes no sense. But he spent a couple of days at home in agony before his girlfriend finally took him back to the ER again. This time they gave him morphine, again advised him to see the specialist pronto, and told him his life might depend on it.

So what did he do? He went back home and relaxed until the morphine wore off. Then the pain started up again. They finally went to the ER of a much larger hospital which had the necessary specialist on staff. It appears he is bleeding internally and is now scheduled for surgery. It is unclear what this will cost and who is paying for it. Depending what the surgeon finds inside, he may need a lot more treatment.

I tell this story for two reasons. First, this man needs your prayers for healing. Second, it illustrates that the so-called health care crisis in the U.S. isn't always the fault of "the system." This guy isn't poor. He could have afforded health insurance, but like a lot of people his age he goes without because he thinks he is indestructible. He gambled and lost. He figured "somebody" would always be there to take care of him. "Somebody" means all the rest of us who buy health insurance and pay taxes.

This doesn't mean he will be off the hook. With this condition in his medical history, he will probably be uninsurable for the rest of his life. He works in a field where most people are self-employed and group medical coverage is hard to find. He'll need insurance if he decides to marry and start a family, yet he'll be too "rich" to qualify for Medicaid and still unable to get insurance privately. His best bet will be to change careers and go to work for a big company or a governmental agency. That will be a shame because he's very good at what he does.

I believe we all have a moral obligation to help the sick. What do we do, though, with people who have the ability to take care of themselves and simply don't? This guy made a mistake by not insuring himself when he had a chance. He knows that now - or at least he will very soon when he starts getting the bills. Multiply this story by a few thousand times every day throughout the U.S. and you start to see the magnitude of the problem. I don't have a good answer. I think an excellent start would be to do something about the trial lawyers whose frivolous lawsuits drive up the cost of health care for everyone. Beyond that, I don't know.

Ron Paul Hits The Jackpot

From the LA Times:

The Texas congressman with the sharp libertarian bent thanked his supporters Wednesday for what is one of the best single-day fundraising totals in presidential campaign history. He insisted the event is not an anomaly but a sign of real progress, a claim supported by several Web commentators.

"Amazing! I have to admit being floored by the $4.2 million you raised yesterday for this campaign," Paul wrote to his supporters, adding: "What momentum we have! Please help me keep it up. As you and I know, and our opponents are only suspecting, we have success on our minds and in our hearts."

Mainstream Republicans and conservatives are still having a hard time figuring out how to handle Ron Paul and his supporters. I think I know what the problem is: Dr. Paul actually believes the things he says. He doesn't lie and pander to attract an audience. This is so unusual in politics today that the audience is actually finding him.

I first heard Ron Paul speak in 1985. He had the same message then that he does now. There is no other candidate in the race with a comparable record of consistency and honesty. Few people agree with him on everything - but people from all perspectives seem to find something they like.

The promoters of realpolitick want me to get aboard with somebody who is not "on the fringe." What's sad about this is that it is considered strange for a presidential candidate to have real principles that aren't subject to compromise. Unfortunately, most of the voters don't have principles. What they do have is a short memory - which is why we keep electing people we regret.

People say they want "change," then go tell the pollsters they're backing one of the candidates who offer nothing but "more of the same, only better."

If you really want change, do something radical and support Ron Paul.

First Blogiversary

Today marks the first birthday of Driving Out The Snakes. I would like to thank my regular readers (both of you) for your friendship and support. This is post #440.

When I started the blog I was not exactly sure where it would lead. All I've done is write what's on my mind. Sometimes that means reacting to current events, and at other times I've been more introspective. Whether anyone out there actually finds my ramblings interesting, I can only hope.

With a year of experience I now have several ideas for possible improvements. Suggestions are welcome. One of my goals is to have more of my own original writing and less quoting of other people. This may mean I post a little less frequently, but hopefully you will find it more interesting.

Thanks again to everyone for reading, and also to the many other bloggers who unwittingly gave me inspiration and source material. To celebrate, here are a few of my personal favorite posts from the last year.

Is Bush A Conservative?

Dueling Sperm?
Hope At Helm's Deep
How To Destroy Marriage
Ancient Abortion
Rise of the DINKs
Defining Torture
Sexy Girls
Lottery of Death
Dressed for Success
Enough Wild Oats
War of the Worlds
Who Needs College?
Giuliani, Abortion and Morality
Pro-Life, Sometimes
Sex and Responsibility at Duke
Talking About Nothing
Muslim & American?
Invisible Heresy
Too Many Barns
Rudy Giuliani, Bible Expert
Ron Paul vs. the Neocons

The Pat & Rudy Show

The big political news today is that televangelist Pat Robertson is endorsing Rudy Giuliani for president. I have to say I'm not very surprised. I have nothing against Robertson and I know he's done much good work. However, he's always struck me as a pragmatic sort of guy. He's calculated that Giuliani is the likely GOP nominee and naturally wants to get aboard the bandwagon.

Robertson is a little wacky sometimes but he's no dummy. The fact that James Dobson and other religious right leaders are loudly anti-Rudy gives Robertson an opening to be Giuliani's link to evangelical Christians. If Rudy goes on to become president, he'll owe some favors to Robertson.

Even so, it seems wildly inconsistent for someone like Robertson to support a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights guy like Rudy. The answer, I think, is that to Robertson these things are less important than the fight against radical Islam. He is one of the Giuliani Christians that I wrote about a few months ago, people who will compromise larger principles so they can feel "safe." I think these folks are wrong but there are obviously a lot of them.

Stephen Bainbridge reports on an interesting angle someone noticed. Consider:

1. Giuliani's biggest political problem is his stance on abortion and gay rights.
2. Giuliani's greatest strength is his leadership of NYC on and after 9/11.
3. Robertson has said that God sent the terrorists to attack us because of American support for abortion and gay rights.
4. Therefore, God must want Giuliani to be president.

This is a twisted line of thought, but to Robertson it just might make sense. It fits perfectly with his eschatological views and fervent desire to defend Israel. Because Giuliani and Robertson both view Islam as a dangerous enemy, each sees an alliance as beneficial despite their other differences.

Will it matter? There are plenty of people who regard Pat Robertson as a dangerous nutcase, so the endorsement might actually hurt Rudy with them. You could argue that the people Robertson is most likely to influence are concentrated in Southern states that will vote Republican anyway, no matter who the nominee is. On balance I think it is probably a plus for Rudy, but things can change very quickly.

More views from the blogosphere:
Rod Dreher
David Kuo
Texas Fred
Steven Taylor

Bella is Worth the Wait

I promised I would report back on the movie Bella after I saw it. Mrs. Driving Out The Snakes and I managed to sneak out this weekend long enough to visit a brand new theater where Bella had just opened.

After seeing reviews like this one from Barb Nicolosi I must say I was a little concerned. Apparently some people are a annoyed about the extensive PR campaign the producers have staged in Catholic and other Christian media. I get their point, having heard or read the same story several times in different places the last few weeks. I was convinced after the first time.

That said, I can't blame the producers for trying to promote their film however they can. When you don't have the budget to run much advertising or offer free action figures at Burger King, working through the media is the most cost-effective way to get the word around.

As for the movie itself, I liked it a lot. So did Mrs. D.O.T.S. The romantic story is touching and unfolds in an interesting way. The pro-life message is not at all pushy or moralistic. The Latino family scenes really show what a loving home is like. There are a few holes in the plot and some things that don't make logical sense. It's still well worth seeing, far better than the other dreck that comes out of Hollywood these days. I'm looking forward to more and even better films from Metanoia.

Fred Thompson is Pro-Choice

I've said all along that Fred Thompson's pro-life credentials were shaky. Now he's admitted it in an interview with Tim Russert on Meet The Press this weekend. The exchange meanders quite a bit - here is the full transcript if you want to read it for yourself. The abortion part begins at the bottom of page 3.

The upshot is that Thompson sees abortion as a "states rights" issue. He says he wants Roe vs. Wade overturned, but he doesn't want the states to outlaw abortion. He opposes the GOP platform, which has called for Human Life Amendment to the Constitution since the Reagan years. Thompson nevertheless maintains that he is "pro-life" because he will do what he can as president to keep the federal government out of it.

It got really weird when Russert pinned down Thompson about when life begins.

MR. RUSSERT: So while you believe that life begins at conception, the taking of a human life?

MR. THOMPSON: Yes, I, I, I, I do.

MR. RUSSERT: You would allow abortion to be performed in states if chosen by states for people who think otherwise?

MR. THOMPSON: I do not think that you can have a, a, a law that would be effective and that would be the right thing to do, as I say, in terms of potentially—you can’t have a law that cuts off an age group or something like that, which potentially would take young, young girls in extreme situations and say, basically, we’re going to put them in jail to do that. I just don’t think that that’s the right thing to do. It cannot change the way I feel about it morally, but legally and practically, I’ve got to recognize that fact. It is a dilemma that I’m not totally comfortable with, but that’s the best I can do in resolving it in my own mind.

Follow this, if you can. Thompson says he is pro-life, but he has to be forced into admitting the obvious fact that an unborn child is actually a living person, but he still would oppose the federal government doing anything to help anyone kill this living person, but he wants the Supreme Court to make it easier for states to outlaw this act, but he personally hopes the states will keep it legal so young girls in "extreme situations" won't get put in jail. Sound confusing? Here's the summary: he is pro-choice.

In fact, this whole "state's rights" argument was settled quite convincingly by the Civil War. Thompson is making the same argument that Southern slaveholders did prior to 1865. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."

Allowing doctors to kill children for whatever reason the mom thinks is sufficient does not even remotely qualify as "due process of law." If Fred Thompson thinks life begins at conception - as he told Russert - his constitutional duty as president will be to defend it from the time of conception. He just said on national TV that he intend to ignore his oath of office.

Moreover, if Thompson loves federalism so much he'll have to take some radically unpopular positions as president. Since the national government, in his view, has no business stopping abortion, it must also has no business building highways, regulating drugs, helping with disaster relief, imposing safety standards for toys, and a zillion other things. To be consistent with the stand he takes on abortion he'll have to dismantle about half the federal government. This wouldn't be such a bad thing, but Thompson won't do it. Why? Because he doesn't really believe in federalism. He is using the concept as a convenient dodge to have it both ways on abortion. He cites federalism when it helps him, and ignores it when it doesn't. He's a typical politician, in other words.

As a purely political matter, this is probably a smart position for Thompson to take. He's seen Giuliani get ahead in the polls by saying he is personally against abortion but won't do anything to stop it. Both of them know that most voters won't look very deeply into their positions, so the goal is to stay vague and be all things to all people. It may work well enough to put one of them in the White House. We'll know in a year.

Now it is quite true that there is little the president can directly do about abortion, other than appointing judges who will, we hope, return the issue to the states to decide. I think it matters that the president is pro-life because it tells us other things about the way he will govern. As noted above, Thompson admits that a fetus is a living person - but he still wants to let such persons be killed without due process of law. What other categories of people will he refuse to protect? Which other parts of the Constitution is he prepared to ignore?

Since making prudent judgments about these things is a big part of being president, we need someone who holds the right principles. Fred Thompson clearly does not.

More from Lydia at What's Wrong with the World.

Panic in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Police and soldiers emboldened by state of emergency powers swept up hundreds of activists and opposition members on Sunday, dragged away protesters shouting "Shame on you!", and turned government buildings into barbed-wire compounds. [full coverage at Yahoo!]

It is difficult to overstate how much the U.S. strategy in the Middle East depends on Pakistan. That's why this is a very serious situation any way you look at it. It will be difficult for the Bush Administration to continue arguing that its goals are freedom and democracy for all if it allows Musharraf to become even more blatantly dictatorial than he already was. Reports indicate that the government has shut down all independent media, arrested the Supreme Court's chief justice, and suspended the Constitution. These aren't minor steps.

Neocons and other war hawks will argue that this is just the price we have to pay to win the War on Terror. You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. The people of Pakistan just have to grin and bear it until we get around to liberating them, too. Therefore, the U.S. must do whatever it takes to prop up the Musharraf regime and prevent Muslim extremists from taking over Pakistan. He's an SOB but at least he's our SOB. Steven Taylor isn't buying it.

The real irony here is not that there aren’t real problems associated with Muslim extremism in Pakistan, there most assuredly are. Indeed, it was elements of the Pakistani intelligence apparatus that helped the Taliban establish itself in Afghanistan. And yes, there are clearly jihadist elements in Pakistan. However, the notion that a strong dictatorship will make this situation better is problematic.

At a minimum, if authoritarian rule was the elixir that cured the world of jihadism, it would have been wiped out some time ago. Or have we not noticed that this type of extremist thinking and actions was conceived, gestated and born in the context of mostly secular authoritarianism in the Middle East and Central Asia? A “strong hand” is not some automatic fix. Indeed, such strong hands often inspire further radicalism. No doubt, for example, these “preventive arrests” will inspire the opposition to greater ties and sympathies with extremists, not diminish them. In simple terms, if the opposition wishes to continue its fight, and Musharraf is shutting down existing political mechanisms to do so, what choice will they have but to deepen their connections to radicalized elements in Pakistani politics?

It may be that the immediate crisis will subside, but the best case is that the U.S. now faces a very uncertain long-term problem in Pakistan. Keep in mind that, unlike Iran, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Now imagine a radical Islamist regime taking power there. All of a sudden Iraq and Iran will be the least of our worries.

Arise a Knight

In Kingdom of Heaven (2005), a young man living in the Middle Ages learns his fate is to be a knight - an honor and burden he does not seek but nonetheless accepts. This is the Oath he must take:

Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the Truth always, even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless, and do no wrong.

I have no idea if this language is historically accurate, but they aren't bad rules to live by. We would all do well to adopt them. Yet, as Balian learns in the film, keeping his oath is much harder than it seems.

Click here if you don't see video embedded below.

Wisdom of the Saints XXVI

In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?

St. Augustine of Hippo

Reluctant Diplomats

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 — Career Foreign Service officers at the State Department reacted angrily at a town hall meeting on Wednesday to the possibility that they might be forced to go to Iraq, putting senior Bush administration officials on the defensive.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced just a few days earlier that the State Department would require some diplomats to serve at the American Embassy in Baghdad or on reconstruction teams in some of the country’s volatile provinces. Only those who can cite compelling reasons, like medical problems or extreme personal hardship, will be exempt from disciplinary action, including dismissal, if they turn down the assignment. [NY Times via Darth Beckman]

This is a strange story. On one level, it is easy to say that people at the State Department should stop whining and do their jobs. It's not like they're being asked walk through mine fields. They'll live in Bagdad's fortified Green Zone and be protected by Blackwater, the best security money can buy. Diplomats live in much better, safer conditions than most of the soldiers and Marines who are deployed to Iraq.

On the other hand, I wonder why this is suddenly a problem now. The world is full of places where it is not particularly safe to be an American diplomat, yet so far as I can tell it has not been necessary to threaten foreign service officers with termination to make them go anywhere else but Iraq. Why is this?

If, as we are told, the "surge" is working, violence in Iraq is falling and political reconciliation among the factions is right around the corner, you would think the State Department people would be pushing each other out of the way to get over there. Claiming a piece of the forthcoming great victory ought to be a good career move. This is not happening.

One would think that diplomats have a high degree of knowledge about the real situation in Bagdad. The reactions we see in this story suggest that the State Department rank and file is not optimistic. They could be wrong, of course. I sincerely hope so. Or, they may know some things that the rest of us don't.

Judging from the reports, Secretary Rice seems fully prepared to follow through on and replace anyone in the Foreign Service who refuses assignment to Iraq. From the Bush Administration's point of view this might not be an entirely bad thing. They would then get to re-populate the State Department's career ranks with people of their own choosing who would be more likely to share Bush's attitude toward diplomacy. This would make it that much harder for the next Administration to change course from the direction Bush has been going.

If in fact there are job openings at the State Department soon, it will be a golden opportunity for some people. Personally I am not interested. If I were, say, someone with a Ph.D. in political science who loves his country, fully supports current U.S. military operations around the world, and enjoys defending his positions vigorously, I might look into it. Then again, I might not.