The practice of (biased) journalism

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The Radio Times, the BBC’s mass circulation listings magazine, promotes a programme on the issue of abortion this week with the following introductory paragraph.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s global gag rule, which sparked international outrage earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its abortion ban in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time

The word “delicate” is ok. I think we can all accept the objectivity of “contentious” as well. But when we move to Trump’s “global gag rule” we begin to feel a little unsure of our ground. No one likes being gagged and people who gag others are generally objectionable. Then there is “international outrage”. Was there no support for his policy move? The final blow to our confidence in the BBC’s honesty, fairness and integrity comes with the Irish reference.

The Irish are not going to the polls next year to repeal or not repeal an “abortion ban.” They will be deciding whether or not to continue to vindicate and defend the right to life of the unborn, whether or not to remove from their constitution the article which says:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Am I playing wth words? No, I am trying to do what the BBC is failing to do – use words as objectively as I can, stating the facts without the colour of my opinions attached. My effort at trying to describe what the BBC programme is hoping to do would go something like this.

There are few topics as delicate or contentious today as abortion. From Donald Trump’s policies on Planned Parnthood funding, which sparked international outrage among pro-choice supporters earlier this year, to Ireland’s forthcoming referendum on whether to repeal its law on the right to life of the unborn  in 2018, it is one of the most polarising issues of our time.

No matter what your personal opinion on the issue might be I would hope that you would be reasonably comfortable reading that ‘intro’ to the subject. You might still detect something of my personal opinions there but I would also hope that you would detect something of my respect for your right to an opposing opinion. The Radio Times simply  clobbers me over the head with its strident language. Sad.

On reading that opening paragraph in the magazine who could have any expectation that what this programme will present will be anything other than another apology for abortion on demand?

And sadly this is just one small example of the rampant abandonment by so many journalists of any effort to present facts dispassionately when they at the same time proclaim a commitment to that very ideal. The consequence of all this is that they not only destroy our confidence and trust in a great public institution but they undermine the strength and value of their own opinions. If we cannot trust them to give us the facts honestly then we cannot place much value on the opinions which they are calling on those “facts” to support.

 

Things might be better than we think they are

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The culture war is getting more intense not less so. Both sides are indulging in an orgy of recrimination, each telling the other what a mess they have made of our world. And yet, in many respects, as Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister of the day, reminded the British people back in 1957, “most of our people have never had it so good”. Mind you, while some chuckled at that, others were outraged.

In our time President Trump is expanding the culture wars, pouring more fuel on the fire every day. It’s like a boxing match without a referee as he lands punch after punch on the institutions that he views as liberal, elitist or both. It is so relentless that we are left wondering will it ever stop and whether he is doing it out of conviction or just to keep himself amused and keep his base alive.

In The Hill, Jonathan Easley observes that “With his agenda stalled in Congress and his poll numbers sagging, Trump has kept his base engaged and the left inflamed by escalating feuds with key figures in sports, entertainment, tech and media, effectively dragging politics into every corner of public life.

Easterly says “Trump’s aim is straightforward: To convince voters that there is a privileged class that scoffs at their patriotism and cares more about political correctness and diversity than ordinary Americans, their traditions and their economic plight.”

But is all this about the real world? Is there not something suspiciously unreal about everyone getting worked up about footballers gesturing on a pitch. Why are we paying such attention to entertainers using their narcissistic photo opportunities to spout their ad hominem invective at us. Not to mention the new phenomenom of celebrity colonialism.

On one level, Victor Davis Hanson, writing in the National Review, sees all this as a recycling of the crisis of the 60s and 70s which broke out across the globe in 1968. In that iconic year, the United States seemed to be falling apart, he says.

“The Vietnam War, a bitter and close presidential election, antiwar protests, racial riots, political assassinations, terrorism and a recession looming on the horizon left the country divided between a loud radical minority and a silent conservative majority.”

The concerns of that time seem a good deal more real than much of what is preoccupying most of these celebrities we have to listen to now.

“The United States avoided a civil war. But America suffered a collective psychological depression, civil unrest, defeat in Vietnam and assorted disasters for the next decade — until the election of a once-polarizing Ronald Reagan ushered in five consecutive presidential terms of relative bipartisan calm and prosperity from 1981 to 2001.”

In Europe the students set out to upset every apple cart in sight and already in China the mayhem of the Cultural Revolution had been set in motion by Mao in 1966 and continued for ten brutal years up to his death.

So is it a case of what goes around comes around? In America, after the stability of those conservative and semi-conservative years came the Presidency of Barack Obama, the would-be apostle of peace and unity who split America in two. The East and West coasts were at daggers drawn with Middle America by the end of his two terms. All this was documented by Michael Kirk (without and “e”) in his superb two part PBS documentary, The Divided States of America.

Britain had a relatively peaceful 1968. The London Times did not have much time for students who thought they were more important than they were. It ran an editorial under a heading reminding us that “A student is a student is a student.” But it is not a little ironic that her troubled exit from Europe is to a large extent being made more troublesome by the generation of Marxist revolutionary street-rioters of ’68. They eventually calmed down and then proceeded to nurture and indoctrinate those running the European bureaucracy today.

But Hanson fears that in America this time the divide is far deeper, both ideologically and geographically. It is also more 50/50, with the two liberal coasts pitted against red-state America in between. The same percentages seem to be prevailing in Europe. In Britain the more radical pro-Europe young are at loggerheads with their elders, so much so that with Brexit negotiations staggering along some feel the whole process might be reversed. If that happened who knows what the unintended consequences might be?

As Hanson sees it in America, politics – or rather, a progressive hatred of the provocative Donald Trump – permeates almost every nook and cranny of popular culture.

“The new allegiance of the media, late-night television, stand-up comedy, Hollywood, professional sports and universities is committed to liberal sermonizing. Politically correct obscenity and vulgarity among celebrities and entertainers is a substitute for talent, even as Hollywood is wracked by sexual harassment scandals and other perversities.

“The smears ‘racist,’ ‘fascist,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘Nazi’ — like ‘commie’ of the 1950s — are so overused as to become meaningless. There is now less free speech on campus than during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s”

Yet for all the social instability and media hysteria, life in the United States quietly seems to be getting better. The same is true in most parts of Europe.

The fact is that across the West – and in the East as well – economies are growing. The lessons of the last recession may or may not have been learned. There is no doubt but that a good deal of the public distaste for the warring political class stems from a public memory of how they fell asleep and allowed it to happen.

Hanson wonders if “the instability is less a symptom that America is falling apart and more a sign that the loud conventional wisdom of the past — about the benefits of a globalized economy, the insignificance of national borders and the importance of identity politics — is drawing to a close, along with the careers of those who profited from it?”

As we watch the spectacle of identity politics unfold and the political elites consume their energies on their palpable hatred of one another – while the media cheers on one side at the expense of the other – we wonder whether the real world is just getting on with the job of living while they squabble like adolescents suffering from arrested development.

Take no part in the words of darkness, but instead expose them…

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For the past half-century, the received wisdom among our cultural elites has been that the West is fundamentally bigoted and illegitimate and must be transformed. Melanie Phillips is at it again, taking on these elites and exposing their shallow folly. This woman is indefatigable.

In a superb article in the Jerusalem Post she tells the world that it is eating itself up with contradictions. It does so every time it rubbishes faith and religion because it is cutting the ground from underneath its own feet. By doing so it is putting reason in the same skip.

Among unbelievers, she writes, it is an article of faith that reason, science and modernity are in one box and religion, superstition and obscurantism in another.

Ah yes; the rational, factual, grounded secular world. The one that is currently disinviting speakers and violently attacking universities on the grounds of upholding freedom and equality. The one that is spewing unhinged lies and paranoid distortions at Israel and the Jewish people. The one that appears to be spinning off its axis into utter madness.

Phillips reminds us that this week the Jewish cycle of readings from the five books of Moses begins again in their synagogues. Christians can get into the same boat and identify with everything she reflects on at this turn of the Jewish liturgical year. Christians will begin their cycle with the beginning of Advent in a little more than a month’s time.

The secular world, she reflects, looks on with indifference, bemusement or contempt. The reason for this is something the secular world cannot bring itself to grasp.

The same secular world consigns Christians, the younger brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to the same quaint – but not harmless – category of deluded human beings.

Because the peoples adhering to these traditions are determined to abide by their faith – and in the case of Christians are determined to evangelize, to spread their faith – they are not just harmless delusionals. They are an obstacle to real human progress and must be at least marginalized – if not destroyed.

But the tragic irony of this situation is that the “rationalists” mocking the faithful are leading western civilization on a path of self-destruction.  “For”, as Phillips points out, “in setting out to destroy the biblical basis of western civilization, the secular world is in the process of destroying reason itself.”

Phillips’ reading of how this self-destructive process has been operating is this:

For the past half-century, the received wisdom among our cultural elites has been that the West is fundamentally bigoted and illegitimate and must be transformed. Accordingly, biblical codes embodying objective truth and goodness have been replaced by ideologies such as moral and cultural relativism, materialism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, utilitarianism, feminism, multiculturalism, universalism and environmentalism.

Indeed what she says echoes words of warning of Pope John Paul II at the end of the last century:

(With) the fall of ideologies which bound politics to a totalitarian conception of the world — Marxism being the foremost of these — there is no less grave a danger that the fundamental rights of the human person will be denied and that the religious yearnings which arise in the heart of every human being will be absorbed once again into politics.

This is the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgement of truth impossible. Indeed, “if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism”. (Veritatis Splendor,101)

These movements are all utopian, Phillips asserts. Each in its own way wants to create a new kind of human being and a perfect world. The greens believe they will save the planet. The multiculturalists believe they will excise bigotry from the human heart. The universalists believe they will create the brotherhood of man.

The problem with all these ideologies, she says, is that they are anti-reason.

She is right. The fatal flaw of all these ideologies is that they aim at a utopian perfection and reject the evidence which our reason patently places before our eyes: our fallen nature is of itself incapable of the perfection they dream about. For both the Jew and the Christian that of course is not to say that perfection cannot be attained. “Be you perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” For both these faiths God is real, He is perfect and has promised us redemption.

Phillips traces the hostility of these ideologies to their inherent irrationality:

Moral relativists attack the Mosaic code. Environmentalists attack the (misunderstood) assertion in Genesis that mankind has dominion over the Earth. Materialists attack the belief that there can be anything beyond the universe at all. And so on.

It is no coincidence that these ideologies are both anti-reason and anti-Jew, for Judaism and reason are not in separate boxes at all. The one in fact created the other.

She deconstructs the popular misconception that science and faith are in these “separate boxes”. For the development of science, she argues, monotheism was essential. As the Oxford mathematics professor, John Lennox, puts it: “At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly.”

Science grew from the idea that the universe is rational; and that belief was given to us by Genesis, which set out the revolutionary proposition that the universe had a rational creator. Without such a purposeful intelligence behind it, the universe could not have been rational; there would have been no place for reason in the world, because there would have been no truths or natural laws for reason to uncover.

She then catalogues the great scientists and philosophers, right up to our own time, for whom the idea of science without God was nonsense. They were Jews and Christians.

As we know, not all of them grasped all the implications of the truth which they stumbled on. Many indeed misinterpreted it. But they had one essential clear; God existed and was the author of the universe. Francis Bacon said God had provided us with two books – the book of nature and the Bible – and that to be properly educated one must study both.

Isaac Newton, Descartes, Kepler and Galileo – who said “the laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics,” are all on her list.

As CS Lewis wrote: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

But for her the significant point is that it was not religion in general but the Bible in particular that gave rise to science. She tells us how the Hungarian Benedictine priest Stanley Jaki has shown that in seven great cultures – the Chinese, Hindu, Mayan, Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Arabic – the development of science was truncated. All made discoveries that carried human understanding forward, yet none was able to keep its scientific discoveries going.

Jaki attributes this to two critical features that these cultures had in common: a belief in pantheism and in the cyclical concept of time. Science could proceed only on the basis that the universe is rational and coherent and thus nature behaves in accordance with unchanging laws. It was therefore impossible under pantheism, which ascribed natural events to the whims and caprices of the spirit world.

The other vital factor in the creation of science and modernity was the Bible’s linear concept of time. This means that history is progressive; every event is significant; experience is built upon. Progress was thus made possible by learning more about the laws of the universe and how it works.

Given all this, it comes therefore as no surprise to her that the Jewish people find themselves in the very eye of the civilizational storm. The same can be said for the Christians. For her this new hatred is deeper than the perennial scourge of anti-Semitism, something for which confused Christians in their falleness bear a terrible responsibility over many centuries. This new scourge is, she says, all part of the unfolding story of the modern world turning savagely against the very creed on which it itself is based.

I dare to suggest that in her own way she is admonishing us to beware of the darkness of which that great Jewish Christian, St. Paul, warned the people of Ephesus and Thessalonica, surrounded as they were by the secular pagan culture of his time:

“Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful words of darkness, but instead expose them… Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:8-11, 15-16; cf. 1 Th 5:4-8).

Thank you, Melanie Phillips, for your wisdom and your courage in swimming against this relentless current which threatens to sweep us away in its madness.

Reluctance to go to bed is making us fat, ill and miserable

Matthew Walker wants us all to take sleep more seriously.   “No aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation,” he says. “And yet no one is doing anything about it. When have you ever seen an NHS poster urging sleep? When did a doctor prescribe not sleeping pills, but sleep itself? Sleep loss costs the UK economy more than £30bn a year in lost revenue, or 2% of GDP. I could double the NHS budget if only they would institute policies to mandate or powerfully encourage sleep.”

Walker, a Liverpool-born sleep scientist, is now the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley.

As the line between work and leisure grows ever more blurred, we are worrying more about our sleep. Indeed, it is Walker’s conviction, as recounted to Rachel Cooke in The Observer newspaper, that we are in the midst of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic”, the consequences of which are far graver than any of us could imagine.

Walker has spent the last four-and-a-half years writing Why We Sleep, a complex but urgent book that examines the effects of this epidemic close up, the idea being that once people know of the powerful links between sleep loss and, among other things, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, obesity and anxiety, they will try harder to get the recommended eight hours a night.

Why, exactly, are we so sleep-deprived?

In 1942, less than 8% of the British population was trying to survive on six hours or less of sleep a night; in 2017, almost one in two people is. “First, we electrified the night,” Walker says. “Light is a profound degrader of our sleep. Second, there is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer commuter times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead. And anxiety plays a part. We’re a lonelier, more depressed society. Alcohol and caffeine are more widely available. All of these are the enemies of sleep.”

Walker believes, too, that in the developed world sleep is associated with weakness, even shame. “We have stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting.

In case you’re wondering, the number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment, expressed as a percent of the population and rounded to a whole number, is zero.

Does he take his own advice when it comes to sleep? “Yes. I give myself a non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity every night, and I keep very regular hours: if there is one thing I tell people, it’s to go to bed and to wake up at the same time every day, no matter what. I take my sleep incredibly seriously because I have seen the evidence. Once you know that after just one night of only four or five hours’ sleep, your natural killer cells – the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day – drop by 70%, how could you not?”

And if he is struck by the curse of insomnia? He turns on a light and reads for a while.

More than 20 large-scale epidemiological studies all report the same clear finding: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

To take just one example, adults aged 45 years or older who sleep less than six hours a night are 200% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven or eight hours a night. A lack of sleep also appears to hijack the body’s effective control of blood sugar, the cells of the sleep-deprived appearing, in experiments, to become less responsive to insulin, thus causing a prediabetic state of hyperglycaemia. When your sleep becomes short, moreover, you are susceptible to weight gain. Among the reasons for this are the fact that inadequate sleep decreases levels of the satiety-signalling hormone, leptin, and increases levels of the hunger-signalling hormone, ghrelin. “I’m not going to say that the obesity crisis is caused by the sleep-loss epidemic alone,” says Walker. “It’s not. But processed food and sedentary lifestyles do not adequately explain its rise. Something is missing. It’s now clear that sleep is that third ingredient.”

Sleep has a powerful effect on the immune system, which is why, when we have flu, our first instinct is to go to bed: our body is trying to sleep itself well. Reduce sleep even for a single night, and your resilience is drastically reduced. As Walker has already said, studies show that short sleep can affect our cancer-fighting immune cells. And getting too little sleep across the adult lifespan will also significantly raise your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  (In his book, Walker notes “unscientifically” that he has always found it curious that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both of whom were vocal about how little sleep they needed, both went on to develop the disease.)

And then there is sleep’s effect on mental health. When your mother told you that everything would look better in the morning, she was wise. Walker’s book includes a long section on dreams (which, says Walker, contrary to Dr Freud, cannot be analysed). He suggests that dreaming is a soothing balm. Deep sleep – the part when we begin to dream – is a therapeutic state during which we cast off the emotional charge of our experiences, making them easier to bear. Sleep, or a lack of it, also affects our mood more generally. Brain scans carried out by Walker revealed a 60% amplification in the reactivity of the amygdala – a key spot for triggering anger and rage – in those who were sleep-deprived.

How is it possible to tell if a person is sleep-deprived? Walker thinks we should trust our instincts. Those who would sleep on if their alarm clock was turned off are simply not getting enough. Ditto those who need caffeine in the afternoon to stay awake. “I see it all the time,” he says. “I get on a flight at 10am when people should be at peak alert, and I look around, and half of the plane has immediately fallen asleep.”

So what can the individual do? First, they should avoid pulling “all-nighters”, at their desks or on the dancefloor. Second, they should start thinking about sleep as a kind of work, like going to the gym. “People use alarms to wake up,” Walker says. “So why don’t we have a bedtime alarm to tell us we’ve got half an hour, that we should start cycling down?” We should start thinking of midnight more in terms of its original meaning: as the middle of the night. Sleeping pills, by the way, are to be avoided. Among other things, they can have a deleterious effect on memory.

Here Walker talks with academics at Berkeley about sleep and the brain.

A longer version of this article by Rachel Cooke first appeared in The Observer

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2017. This is a shorter version of a report in the THE WEEK, 4 October 2017

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker is published by Allen Lane at £20.

Something “abhorrent to any civilised society”

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Pawns in a pro-choice game

The chilling implications of the underlying philosophy of those advocating the repeal of Ireland’s constitutional protection of the right to life of all human beings were laid bare last week in the Irish parliament. Currently a committee of elected members is hearing evidence from those proposing and those opposing repeal.

Professor William Binchy, an expert in constitutional law, challenged both those advocating repeal and the legitimacy of international pressure being put on Ireland to make this change.  Clearly the implications for civilization of an argument which gives one human being the right to choose to end the life of another innocent and defenceless human being brings us back to not just the dark ages but to one of barbarism  where right and wrong are no longer rooted in reason but on the whims of individuals.

Human rights, Binchy explained to the members of the Committee – some of whom seem incapable of comprehending the truth of what he was saying – are based on the inherent and equal worth of every human being. “Human beings have human rights, not because they are given by legislators or courts, but by reason of their humanity.” Commenting on what advocates for change are saying, he claimed that, if accepted, they would make it lawful to take the life of a child on request, with no restriction as to reasons, and also where the child has a significant foetal anomaly. “If human rights are to have any meaning, one human being should not be entitled to choose to end the life of another, innocent and defenceless, human being. The idea that our law should authorise the taking of a child’s life with ‘no restriction as to reasons’ is, frankly, abhorrent to any civilised society.”

A big effort has been made by the campaigners for abortion in Ireland to put focus on the cases of rape and on cases where children in the womb are diagnosed with disability. They say that a law which does not allow abortion in such cases is “inhuman”. Binchy addressed this, saying that “terminating the life of a disabled child because of the child’s disability is not consistent with respect for the child’s equal right to life.” Our society, he went on, has been founded on the value that no one has the right to choose to hurt, let alone kill, another innocent human being . Professor Binchy explained that on the basis of the supremacy of choice, the philosophy behind “right to choose” with “no restriction as to reasons” – these are the terms of the law being proposed to Irish legislators – implies the right to take the life of another human being.

On the campaign tactic of the Irish abortion lobby to enlist the support of UN agencies and monitoring committees – which are peopled with die-hard “right to choose” advocates,-  he stated categorically that the international human rights treaties which Ireland has ratified do not provide for a right to abortion. If they were in conflict with the Irish Constitution they would not have been ratified by Ireland. Any comment from the monitoring committees of the international treaties does not change the meaning of the treaties. Their members, Professor Binchy maintained, are earnest supporters of the “right to choose” philosophy and Ireland has no obligation to change its Constitution to get it in line with their views.

He was also highly critical of the submission of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on the issue. He himself was a member of this Commission in the past. He said that if the proposals were implemented, they would involve abortion with little or no restrictions in practice, i.e. a regime of abortion on demand. “Throughout its Policy Document, the Commission never addresses the entitlement of children before birth to be protected from having their lives ended. It offers no reasons why such a profound discrimination against them should be proposed. Alarmingly, it presents no objections from a human rights perspective to late term abortions.”

 

In Ireland, David and Goliath meet again

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The forces of so-called progress, namely “progressiveism”, and the forces of reason are mustering on the Island of Ireland. The war has not yet been formally declared. It will be when the Irish Government finally sets a date for a referendum on its Constitution, now due to take place in May or June next year.

Ireland’s progressivists are an embarrassed lot – feeling out of step with their compatriots in the United States, the Island of Britain and the continent of Europe. Among this enlightened elite, poor backward Ireland is still living in the dark ages, continuing “against the tide of History” to regard the child in its mother’s womb as a human being. The international media is keeping up the pressure – hoping that they will see Ireland go from the back of the class right up to the front again, as it did 3 years earlier when it became the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by a popular vote.

It is all shaping up to be the greatest and most unequal contest since David faced Goliath. On one side you have the international forces of the United Nations, assorted NGOs led by a shadowy manipulator masquerading as a philanthropist, George Sorros,  by that betrayed organisation, Amnesty International, whose Irish branch is now totally dedicated to the cause of abortion – and about ninety percent of the national media. On the other side you have a very committed but numerically limited and terribly underfunded platoon of pro-life action groups defending the unborn.

Pope Francis is expected to visit Ireland in August next year. The clever progressives in the Irish Government have been very careful to ensure that he was not going to get a platform to speak his mind on the issue in any way that would have a serious impact on the result. For that reason the referendum will take place in the first half of 2018. They have no such reservations about letting the un-elected United Nations quangos have their say on the matter.

But the pro-life workers know the story of David and Goliath. They also know that in their sling they have a small still voice more powerful than anything this Goliath can throw at them and the unborn. They have the truth, the truth about our nature and about our humanity. They feel that if they can tell the story of life then the deception of abortion will be exposed – along with the untruth that choice and freedom are synonymous. All this, they hope, will be seen by the people of Ireland to be the lie that it is.

“Only the freedom which submits to the Truth leads the human person to his true good. The good of the person is to be in the Truth and to do the Truth”.

The denial of the truth inherent in the pro-choice ideology, a denial made in the face of human nature and science, enslaves its adherents – even as they demand their false autonomy.

That quote above is from Saint John Paul’s Veritatis Splendor.  It speaks not just to the Christian but to all mankind.

He also spells out, in the same magna carta on behalf of Truth, the reasons for the cul-de-sac into which progressivism has led us, and it’s dire consequences.

“This essential bond between Truth, the Good and Freedom has been largely lost sight of by present-day culture… Pilate’s question: “What is truth” reflects the distressing perplexity of a man who often no longer knows who he is, whence he comes and where he is going. Hence we not infrequently witness the fearful plunging of the human person into situations of gradual self- destruction. According to some, it appears that one no longer need acknowledge the enduring absoluteness of any moral value. All around us we encounter contempt for human life after conception and before birth; the ongoing violation of basic rights of the person; the unjust destruction of goods minimally necessary for a human life. Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation. The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil.”

So let the battle be engaged. Nine months – the likely span of time between now and this crucial moment of truth for the Irish people, and indeed the watching world, is a symbolic duration. The great art historian, Kenneth Clark, from the precipice of Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry, long before Star Wars arrived there, once spoke of Western civilization hanging by its fingernails from those rocks. Perhaps history will repeat itself.

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Sleepwalking over a precipice?

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Dreaming dreams is one thing. Living in them is another. Visions of our future do not have a great history. A much better pathway to the future is along the trajectory on which our history has already put us. The Irishman’s advice to the straying traveler who is looking for directions, “If  I was you Sir, I wouldn’t start from here at all,” is about as practical as most visionary Geo-political pursuits are. Martin Luther King had a dream. It was a noble vision, and while it brought African Americans some way along the freedom road, it has left in its wake more disappointment than achievement. The quality of life he dreamed of for his people is still just that, a dream.

The European Union is built on a dream. It is a dream which was also generated by an admirable ideal – peace among men and an end to war. But with each decade that passes, as the project stumbles from crisis to crisis, the warning signs are more and more evident that the visionary foundations of its structure are illusory and woefully inadequate for the gigantic and cumbersome edifice it dreams of becoming.

The cultural differences between the peoples of Britain and continental Europe are at the heart of Brexit. Rooted as they are in “the Anglo-Saxon way” and pragmatic as they have always been, the British majority have called time on the European dream. They are pursuing their democraticly and constitutionally exercised decision with characteristic doggedness – despite the scorn of their neighbours across the Irish Sea and the English Channel.

And yet, in spite the sinister rumblings of regional nationalism in Spain, the signals of discontent coming from Poland and Hungary, the sizable minorities in France, Netherlands and Austria, all unhappy with a perceived overreach by the patronizing bureaucracy of this visionary Union, its leadership persists in proclaiming its ideology of the Communion of all Europe’s people. Just now it is Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, and Emmanuel Marcon, France’s new President, are the latest victims of European myopia.

Back in 2013 it was José Manuel Barroso, then the President of the Commission, when he gave a speech calling for a “new narrative” for Europe. But it wasn’t really a new narrative, it was really a call for the great and the good of the Union to step up to the plate and proclaim the ideal again for the generation of the new millennium. He just wanted to use the old wineskin of the Union into which he would put some newly fermented wine. We have been warned about what that can lead to.

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José Manuel Barroso
Anne Applebaum, in a survey of a recent batch of books on the predicament of Europe in the New York Review of Books, recalls this speech.

Barroso, she writes—like many, many others—saw which way the wind was blowing even then. Europe’s leaders seemed technocratic and remote—and they knew it. Europe’s political institutions were unpopular. The euro crisis had left numerous people angry and resentful. Worse, younger Europeans seemed not to get the point of the union at all. Barroso made a proposal:

I think we need, in the beginning of the XXI century, namely for the new generation that is not so much identified with this narrative of Europe, to continue to tell the story of Europe. Like a book: it cannot only stay in the first pages, even if the first pages were extremely beautiful. We have to continue our narrative, continue to write the book of the present and of the future. This is why we need a new narrative for Europe.

Barosso’s initiative recruited artists, writers, and scientists from across the continent who signed a declaration: “In light of the current global trends, the values of human dignity and democracy must be reaffirmed.” A book was published, The Mind and Body of Europe: A New Narrative. Debates and dialogues were held throughout the continent and the objective was to create a strong sense of European federal identity.

But this is precisely how dreamers – we call them idealists when we think we like them – work and get political life wrong. Real practical politics grows out of real life, not out of dreamed up grandiose schemes.

Applebaum writes that while it’s easy for Anglo-Saxons to laugh, many modern European states were created by precisely this kind of top-down campaign—”think of the unification of Italy or Germany in the nineteenth century, or the resurrection of Poland after World War I.”

They were, and they were not. In all those cases there was a bottom up force at work as well as a top down design. This has never really been true for Europe. Even the United States of America, which might be the closest model on which the European Union could base itself, would be a very false template to use. The United States was forged out of living political realities – an over-reaching and uncomprehending imperial authority – and a subsequent immigrant colonisation with which the new Republic had great trouble controlling. It was unable to hold itself together without creating rivers of blood among the indigenous people and the sacrifice of 750,000 lives in a civil war which is still reverberating under the surface.

And as Barosso found out, dreamt-up intellectual projects without roots in the native soil did not work for his “new narrative”. While Barroso’s project had some of the elements, Applebaum observes, of a popular national movement: intellectual and artistic support, a consistent idea, an inspiring concept, it was not popular and it died the death of most dreams.

In her reading of the books she reviews Applebaum detects no more agreement between them than was evident among the great and good that Barosso vainly tried to enlist to the cause of Europe.

With a little glimmer of the light which Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, aka, Joseph Ratzinger, shed on this subject she notes that the problem isn’t one of national differences. The issues that separate the authors she reviews “are temperamental, ideological, and even, one might say, eschatological.” And there’s the rub. The heart has gone out of Europe. The only coherent identity which Europe ever had as an entity has been abandoned.

In Values in a Time of Upheaval: Meeting the Challenges of the Future, Ratzinger noted how

At the beginning of the 1960s it was still possible for Arnold Toynbee to express his optimism about the victory of European culture. He wrote that of the twenty-eight cultures that had been identified (around the planet), eighteen were already dead; and of the ten that still existed, nine had already visibly collapsed, so that only one—ours, the European—remained. Who would dare to say that today? And what is “our” culture, which allegedly still remains? Is the civilization of technology and commerce that has spread victoriously throughout the world our “European culture”?

Now, he says, in the very hour of its most extreme “success”, Europe seems to have become empty from within. Its life seems threatened by a crisis of circulation, and it almost seems to need a transfusion of blood—but that would destroy its own identity. In keeping with this dying of the elemental forces that expressed the soul, the reduced number of births makes one suspect that Europe is also dying out in ethnic terms.

Even in the 1960s Toynbee conceded that the “Western world” was in a crisis. He identified roots of that crisis in the falling away from religion to embrace a cult of technology, of the nation, and of militarism. Ultimately, Ratzinger reminds us, Toynbee identified the crisis as secularism. “But if we can name the cause of the crisis, we can also indicate the path to healing: the religious element must be reintroduced. Toynbee holds that this element includes the religious patrimony of all cultures, but especially what remains of Western Christianity.”

Ratzinger talks of the collapse of Communism and implies that this brought with it a kind of false dawn of a new age. For him the real catastrophe that the Communist regimes left behind was not economic, it was the devastation of souls, the destruction of moral consciousness. He holds that the fundamental contemporary problem for Europe and for the world is the almost total silence about the moral and religious problems that were the real heart of the Communist aberration.

Christian ideals are real ideals, not dreams. They are the very stuff of life and death, of human conception, birth, living with our feet on the ground but with our heads, through the medium of body and soul, in Heaven. This was part of the original inspiration of the practical political men who set the European Union on its path. This has been wilfully abandoned.

As Ratzinger puts it: The initial enthusiasm for a return to the great constant elements of the Christian heritage soon evaporated, and European unification proceeded almost exclusively from the economic perspective. Scant attention was paid to the question of the intellectual foundations of such a community.

Applebaum concludes her assessment of our prospects recalling an observation by a
European diplomat of her acquaintance who likes to compare Europe and the US to the Western and Eastern halves of the old Roman Empire. The West imploded, with drama, violence and crazy Caesars; the Byzantine East lingered on, bureaucratic, stodgy, and predictable, for many centuries. It’s not exactly an optimistic precedent for Europeans, but it’s a comforting one.

It might be comforting until we remember the ultimate fate of that stodgy old empire. It was overrun by Islam. The book which Applebaum does not include in her review is Douglas Murray’s best-selling The Strange Death of Europe, published in May. She might have done and had she it might have shattered any comfort her diplomat friend was seeking to convey to us.

Our European masters may not be just dreaming. They may be sleepwalking and leading us over a precipice.

Relishing James Joyce

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He is special, very special. Don’t doubt it. He was at times raw but I don’t think he was obscene – and you can read prudently. If you walk through the streets of Dublin and its suburbs today, and enter into the minds and hearts of those you encounter, you will find the same authentic humanity as he portrayed – humour, falleness, ignorance and beauty which he laid before us from a century ago.  And while it will be Irish it will also be universal.

What follows, from the Paris Review, is one person’s simple illustration of why and how the literary world remains in awe of him.

Joyce was good. He was a good writer. He makes me grumpy a lot, especially Ulysses, but he was good. There are at least twenty irresistible qualities to Ulysses. At or near the top of the stack, at least for me, is the way he traffics in what I call “hyperrealistic unnecessaries.”

Shakespeare was like that, too. Sprinkled all through his plays are these exchanges that are not at all essential to the plot but that “ring true” in some surprising way, causing one to turn ’em over and over in one’s mind, pleasurably.

FIRST PLAYER
But who, O who, had seen the mobled queen?

HAMLET
The “mobled” queen?
 
POLONIUS
That’s good. “Mobled queen” is good.

 

Moreover, the fact that the whole thing turns on the word “mobled” raises the pitch well into the “exquisite” range. (The best Simpsons episodes are full of this kind of thing, as well.)

But to return to Joyce: the unnecessary bits that are just so perfect are everywhere in Ulysses. I want to unpack one of them from my favorite chapter (chapter 1), for the benefit of American readers who have absolutely no idea how traditional British money works. Here is the passage:

 

—Have you your bill? We had better pay her, Mulligan, hadn’t we?

 Stephen filled again the three cups.

—Bill, sir? she said, halting. Well it’s seven mornings a pint at twopence is seven twos is a shilling and twopence over and these three mornings a quart at fourpence is three quarts is a shilling. That’s a shilling and one and two is two and two, sir.

Buck Mulligan sighed and, having filled his mouth with a crust thickly buttered on both sides, stretched forth his legs and began to search his trouser pockets.

—Pay up and look pleasant, Haines said to him, smiling.

Stephen filled a third cup, a spoonful of tea colouring faintly the thick rich milk. Buck Mulligan brought up a florin, twisted it round in his fingers and cried:

—A miracle!

He passed it along the table towards the old woman, saying:

—Ask nothing more of me, sweet. 

All I can give you I give.

Stephen laid the coin in her uneager hand.

—We’ll owe twopence, he said.

—Time enough, sir, she said, taking the coin. Time enough. Good morning, sir.

Every little dot of that is excellent. Mulligan’s sigh. Haines’s smiling banality. The woman’s “uneager” hand. But my purpose here, this morning, is to explain the bill. Her unpunctuated rigmarole of numerical spangablasm is, for me, the crown jewel in this passage, the main reason I remember it.

ls
Sandycove and its Martello Tower, the scene of chapter one.

But first, a little backstory. Like all other Americans with literature Ph.D.s, I have had the old British monetary system explained to me a hundred times. But the thing is hopeless. Bobs, tanners, groats, florins, crowns, guineas—there’s quite a few too many of these. Also, there is the error of thinking the pound is the basic unit. Nothing costs a pound; everything costs a shilling.

For me, the only solution was to go to coin shops and purchase actual specimens of the key items mentioned above. Graduate students of America, listen to me! Go online and buy yourself an eighteenth-century shilling. Pay whatever they want. If you simply stare at a shilling (it’s a handsome coin) for long enough, a lot of your anxieties will relax. As Isaac Watts says: “Let Induftry and Devotion join together, and you need not doubt the happy Succefs.”

But let’s revisit what Mother Grogan (or whatever her name is) says.

Well it’s seven mornings a pint at twopence is seven twos is a shilling and twopence over and these three mornings a quart at fourpence is three quarts is a shilling. That’s a shilling and one and two is two and two, sir.

Let us not make this any more complicated than it needs to be. Here are the essentials. A shilling is twelve pence. A florin is two shillings. Thus,—

(a)  A pint of milk for each of seven mornings, at twopence a pint, is fourteen pence (“a shilling and twopence over”).

(b)  But these three most recent mornings, they’ve had quarts of milk, which go for four pence each (naturally, since a quart is two pints). Three quarts x four pence = twelve pence, i.e., a shilling.

Having calculated (b), she adds (a) to it: [a shilling, for the quarts] + [“one and two,” i.e. a shilling and twopence, for the pints] = [“two and two,” i.e. two shillings and twopence].

Mulligan gives her a florin (= two shillings)—that’s why they still owe twopence.

Got it? You’d probably better read the last few paragraphs over again. Concentrate.

Now, obviously the reader is not supposed to follow the original any better than Mulligan does. Indeed the iggskwizzitness of the passage is bound up in the fact that this humble, uneducated woman thinks rings(for a moment anyway) around these supposedly superior young men. And she does so without aggression or victory, or anything else. She’s mainly wary of them.

Just the same, it bothered me for years, knowing that the novel’s original readers were not nearly as flummoxed as I was. I mean, you’re supposed to be bewildered, but not rendered utterly helpless.

Splendidly, the reader of the present note now understands the passage as well as anyone alive. Until forgetting sets in, your mind has achieved union, not with that of James Joyce but with that of Mother Grogan, or whatever her name was.

Gratia Domini nostri Iesu Christi cum omnibus.

Paglia’s “Presentism” and the spread of Chicken Little hysteria

chickenlittle-480

Camille Paglia is a contemporary social and cultural critic who defies categorisation by any terms which our simplistic modernism has at its disposal. This is what makes her so interesting – and important.

Mark Bauerlein who is senior editor of First Things describes her as “an idiosyncratic mix of liberal and conservative convictions—or perhaps we should say that she, like any person of serious understanding, has an intellectual makeup more complex than our current political simplicities can absorb.”

He doesn’t try but he does observe that there is one profound traditionalist point that she maintains repeatedly, and it is one of the first truths of the conservative disposition.
She announced it, he explains, a few months back in an interview with the New York Observer. The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”

Ignorance of history, ignorance about the conditions of humanity in past ages, is crippling the minds of milennial in Paglia’s view. She is appalled by how little history young Americans actually possess.

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.”

When people judge the present solely in present terms, not in relation to the past, diversity becomes not the pursuit of knowledge of other cultures, religions, and civilizations. It becomes, Paglia says, a “banner” under which we presume to “remedy” contemporary social sins. At that point, we should realize, education has turned into indoctrination.

That’s not what education is supposed to do, she continues. Education is about “opening the great past . . . . More knowledge, more hard knowledge.”

She argues that we have allowed the classroom to devolve from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of “cures” for social problems. That approach is “wrong,” Paglia insists, a job for social welfare agencies, not postsecondary learning. We should return to the vision of education as the “abstract and detached study of the past and of the global present.”

Daring to ask a question – paying a high price

illiteracy-is-bondage

If illiteracy is bondage, the moral variety is even more so. The moral illiteracy of our age is astounding. It is revealed yet again in an Irish context in the controversy surrounding a well-known radio journalist, George Hook, who found himself suspended from his job for asking a simple question with insufficient delicacy. In fact, the delicacy was not the real issue. It was that he asked the question at all.

But what exactly did he say? In the context of a rape charge involving a drunken threesome he had no doubt that, if guilty, the rapist had committed a horrible crime. However, Hook’s undoing was that he then had the temerity to ask a universal question, “But is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?

Mr Hook also said: “There is personal responsibility because it’s your daughter and it’s my daughter. And what determines the daughter who goes out, gets drunk, passes out and is with strangers in her room and the daughter that goes out, stays halfway sober and comes home, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish I knew what the secret of parenting is.

“But there is a point of responsibility. The real issues nowadays and increasingly is the question of the personal responsibility that young girls are taking for their own safety.”

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of a Rape Crisis Centre, said Mr Hook’s comments were problematic, wrong, and entirely irresponsible. “When someone is raped the only person responsible is the rapist.”

Chris Donoghue, the group political editor at Communicorp, a media company that owns the station Hook works for, tweeted about his colleague saying, “Someone needs to go to town on Hook. It’s disgusting.”

A day or two later he tweeted again saying: “Thanks for msgs, I’m not trying to be a hero or outspoken. It’s a basic thing for everyone to stand for. Rape is never a victim’s fault.”

This is moral illiteracy – showing a total and wanton ignorance of the rational concept of moral culpability, or lack of it.

Put simply and taken out of the sordid context of rape, if I see a “Beware of the dog” sign and, after ignoring it, get badly bitten, at best I am a fool, at worst I am morally culpable of negligence relating to my bodily integrity. If I get into a car with a drunk behind the wheel do I not have to ask myself some questions about my common sense, my moral sense and certainly my sense of responsibility with regard to my own safety and well-being? If my companion drives off the road I will not have perpetrated that act but my injuries – possibly my death – will be a witness to my gross imprudence as well as to the driver’s criminality. Perhaps the moral ignorance which makes people think otherwise comes from the widespread equating of legality with morality.

Camille Paglia, Laura Kipnis, cultural critics and feminists who talk a lot of sense  about drinking on campus have made themselves very unpopular with the moral illiterates.

“If you’re to going drink 11 ounces of liquor, that’s destructive on a lot of levels. In terms of self-protection, you just cannot know what’s going to happen when you’re comatose,”  Kipnis argues in her new book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus. She also makes the point: “To say that women don’t have to be part of the solution is almost perverse.”

Paglia’s new book, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism, reprises previously published essays. A professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, she suggests less boozing and more “take-charge attitude” might spare young women from rape – or what she described in a 2014 Time article as “oafish hookup melodramas arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.”

Then we had an older and a wiser Chrissie Hynde, founding member of the rock band The Pretenders telling us in her 2015 memoir Reckless that she’d been raped by a biker gang member at the age of 21. The moral illiterates found it incomprehensible that  the singer blamed herself for “playing with fire,”

Poor George Hook thought he might get away with adding his tuppence-worth of moral wisdom to all that. Little did he know the depth of ignorance he would have to contend with as the moral illiterates bayed for his blood and attempt to destroy his career with relish?