Thursday, August 30, 2007

Estrogen Pollutes Colorado Waterways, Mutates Fish

In jest, I mentioned here a British study on the effects of estrogen contamination in the waterways of Englan The excess estrogen comes from some plastics, cosmetics, and detergents, but most especially from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapies which pass through humans into the sewage system. The most disturbing effect of excess estrogen in the water is the "frankenfish"--male fish with acquired hermaphroditic characteristics like egg production and a more feminine physical appearance.

When I heard this story, I cheerfully reflected on Colorado's location upstream from the rest of the country. Now the frankenfish phenomenon hits closer to home.

Boulder Weekly writer Wayne Laugesen tweaked Boulder Valley environmentalists with news of estrogen pollution in the effluent of Boulder. (Laughnesen also summed things up for the National Catholic Register) He knew well which choice residents would make if given the option of saving the environment or of maintaining their lifestyle.

He follows up with worrisome news of a new experiment by Boulder researcher David Norris:

In response to public denial over the results of his survey, Norris took extraordinary measures to prove his findings. This column is likely the first you've heard of them, because the mainstream media desire to ignore this subject.

Norris obtained funding from the Colorado Division of Fish and Wildlife and the EPA for a study under peer review today by scientists from the United States Geological Survey. The Norris team set up a lab next to the sewage plant in the summer of 2006. They removed all external variables and isolated fish, creek water obtained upstream from the treatment plant, and Boulder's estrogen-rich effluent. Then they altered life.

"With a ratio of water-to-effluent identical to what's immediately downstream from the plant, we were able to feminize the fish within seven days," Norris told me. "They all started producing female proteins. We shut down their production of sperm, and they all started acting like females."

One can't help but fear the effects such estrogenated water is having on humans. Norris notes: "emerging evidence suggests correlation between Ethinyl Estradiol pollution and increased abnormalities in the reproductive systems of newborns, increased prostate cancer and reduced human fertility." One even wonders if it is responsible for an increased incidence of homosexuality and male effeminacy.

If one subtle corruption of human sexuality indeed redounds upon the health of nature and the health of the human race, how much more fearsome will appear the order of the cosmos!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Church: An Effect Not Greater Than Its Cause

"Our reflections on Julicher's exegesis of the parables have already led us to the conclusion that no one would have been condemned to the Cross on account of such harmless moralizing...

The anonymous community[of early Christians] is credited with an astonishing level of theological genius--who were the great figures responsible for inventing all this? No, the greatness, the dramatic newness, comes directly from Jesus; within the faith and life of the community it is further developed, but not created. In fact, the "community" would not even have emerged and survived at all unless some extraordinary reality had preceded it."

-Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Varieties of Corporate Welfare, Exposed

Big Business is one of the obvious features of modern life. Its left-wing opponents regard corporate America as rogues relentlessly maximizing profit and bristling at every government regulation, intent on returning American law to the age of unregulated robber barons. Its right-wing defenders valorize the corporation for its economic productivity and seemingly tireless pursuit of consumer satisfaction through innovation and sound business sense--all without the inefficiency and stultification of government intervention.

Tim Carney's The Big Ripoff attacks many of these superficial themes, but also reveals how such rhetoric does not go far enough in its criticism or its praise. Subtitled How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money, his book reveals the curious alliance of business and government interests as two symbiotic parasites leeching upon taxpayers, consumers, and smaller entrepreneurs.

Regulation too often is written by the largest actors in the very industries targeted for legal constraints. Regulation means higher costs of entry for would-be competitors and more overhead for already-existing but less powerful competition. Regulation efforts ensure closer cooperation between the most influential businesses and the public sector. Such efforts serve the expansive tendencies of government bureaucracies and provide politicians the resume-building opportunity of Standing Up to Big Business. The businesses supporting state regulation also gain a reputation for being responsible corporate citizens, while their more radical political opposition find attempts at more restrictive legislation forestalled.

Carney reports that tax increases are also often supported by business organizations. Tax hikes often provide funds for direct or indirect corporate subsidies. The potential variety of this indirect support is unnerving: infrastructure improvements, worker education programs, and mass transportation, even when serving public purposes also reduce some business expenses. Even redistributionary schemes could find support in some sectors: Walmart, the corporate bugbear par excellence, would benefit from the welfare-induced increased spending power of its lower-class clientele, and such logic was at work in its political support for a minimum wage hike.

The story of the American sugar industry is perhaps the most grievous example of corporate welfare recounted in The Big Ripoff. US Sugar and the Fanjul family both dominate the American sugar supply. They have secured not only a highly protective quota against foreign importers, but also exemptions from said quota for their corporate-owned sugarfields in the Dominican Republic. They are major beneficiaries of the damaging swamp-draining infrastructure of the Everglades, governmental loans, and guaranteed sales at twice the international rate. Worse, the artificially high price of sugar has established corn syrup as the leading ingredient in many American foods, thus allying corn-growers with an industry that would otherwise be its competition.

The Florida-based Fanjuls carefully guard their privileges through bipartisan support for key politicians in their crucial swing state, and they get their money's worth: Carney estimates the sugar complex needlessly costs taxpayers and consumers $1.9 billion per year.

Other anecdotes explore the revolting abuses of eminent domain, the incoherence of programs which join foreign policy with business expansion, and the sad, wearisome ways in which legislation merely allies itself with cartelization and oligopoly.

At times the thought of this incestuous network of collaborating interests induces hopelessness. How can one repeal even one subsidy benefitting a powerful, energetic few but of only minimal consequence to most voters?. How can one start a business if one faces a mountain of regulations cooked up by one's largest competitors?

At other points, Carney's efforts encourage that shadow of despair: cynicism. While any piece of legislation has self-interested parties for and against, the capacity for disinterested deliberation can be corrupted by constant analysis of ulterior motives as much as by monied interests. Though Carney is careful to qualify his polemic, his work needs the complement of a wise understanding of sound public policy.

That said, The Big Ripoff is a certain cure for the naivety found among both reformers and free marketeers.

See Also: An earlier selection from Carney

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ancient Greek on Google Books

Summa Minutiae has some links tempting me to resume my Homeric studies. Has some classicist compiled a bibliography of the good nineteenth-century books available on Google?


The answer to my question is "yes." Classics in Contemporary Culture and Tarik Wareh list Greek and Latin works from both Classical and Patristic eras.

Mike Aquilina recommends his own favorite patristics sites.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Psychologists Liable for Quack Advice to Bishops?

Susan Brinkman gives the details in her book, The Kinsey Corruption (Ascension Press). Certain Catholic Church administrators hired sexuality educators who taught Kinseyan values. This employment pattern held as well for some selected psychologists who screened aspiring seminarians, many of whom were rejected because they were said to be too sexually “orthodox,” not “tolerant” of homosexuality. Bishops sent pedophile priests for treatment to therapists who accepted pedophilia as an “orientation.”


The Johns Hopkins clinic and St. Luke Institute [in Maryland] are two Kinseyan therapeutic venues. Fr. Rossetti took over St. Luke Institute after its founder, Michael Peterson, a priest and practicing homosexual, died of AIDS. Some of their infamous pederast patients included Fr. Rudy Kos of Dallas and Fr. John Geoghan of Boston .

...medical malpractice is one approach that immediately comes to mind. These “sexperts” held themselves out as authorities; bishops and vocations directors listened and commonly followed their directives. Yet, almost all of these "sexperts" built their therapies on the fraudulent research of Kinsey and his disciples.
-Judith Reisman, Sue the "sexperts"

Of course, the bishops bear the most proximate responsibility for the treatment and punishment, or rather lack thereof, for predatory priests. They abandoned centuries of Christian ethics and psychology for the insane fads of the moment. Yet the pseudoscientific cranks deserve some exposure too.

The psychological malpractice alleged here is also reminiscent of reports that psychotherapists destroyed the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Justice Potter Stewart on Secular Education

It might also be argued that parents who want their children exposed to religious influences can adequately fulfill that wish off school property and outside school time. With all its surface persuasiveness, however, this argument seriously misconceives the basic constitutional justification for permitting the exercises at issue in these cases. For a compulsory state educational system so structures a child's life that, if religious exercises are held to be an impermissible activity in schools, religion is placed at an artificial and state-created disadvantage. Viewed in this light, permission of such exercises for those who want them is necessary if the schools are truly to be neutral in the matter of religion. And a refusal to permit religious exercises thus is seen not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism, or, at the least, as government support of the beliefs of those who think that religious exercises should be conducted only in private.
-Justice Potter Stewart, Dissent, School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp

The logical and practical failings of State neutrality have been detailed by many thinkers such as David Schindler. I had not realized that these failings were apparent even in 1963.

Destructive Human Embryo Research at the University of Colorado

The Rocky Mountain News reports on current stem cell research and the funding thereof. The author of the piece curiously omits ethical objections.

Colorado Right to Life seems busy picking fights with James Dobson. Perhaps it should direct its energies into placing a few candidates in the CU Regents race so bioethical concerns have a voice at the university.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Worthy Lectures from ISI

Browsing the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Videos I came across two of note. Christendom College's William Fahey introduces Hillaire Belloc to a new audience, including a good summary of the origin and habits of Modernity.

Reactionary Radical Bill Kauffmann sings the praises of localism. He recounts one visit to Columbus, Mississippi:

We entered the eatery and were seated behind four ladies with lovely, mellifluous Southern accents. They spent the next half hour recounting the plot of the previous night's episode of Friends, that smuttily witless show by which archaeologists of the twenty-third century will condemn our civilization.

I wanted to confront them, to plead with them:

"Look, here you are, daughters of a poor, reviled state, which is nevertheless one of the culturally richest states in the union. Your home gave us the Delta Blues, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Shelby Foote,

And yet you consume the commercial products of cocaine-addled greedheads in Manhattan and Hollywood, people who hate your guts, who despise you as ignorant crackers and stupid rednecks. Get off your knees, Mississippi! There are new Robert Johnsons and Eudora Weltys in your midst. Support them. Look inward, look homeward! With a little water, the flowers in your own backyard will bloom a thousand times more brilliantly than anything on your high definition TV set."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Billy Graham gets the Michelangelo Treatment from Time

Newsbusters is making hay about an obvious subtle allusion to Michelangelo's "Moses", which also has horns.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

If You Want to Send a Message...

I've blogged many, many times about how the language of 'giving a sense of' and 'sending a message' makes sensations and emotions more important than the acts and realities that cause them, and how alienating this actually is to our emotional psychologies themselves. It reinforces a permanent remove from your own actions, putting you into an essentially ironic relationship with your own life and self.
-James Poulos

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Streaking Cleric

I can't say I have much to say about the local priest caught doing some nudist jogging, but Diogenes noticed the timeline. It seems disciplinary action followed quickly not after the deed was made known to the chancery, but after the deed was made known to the public five weeks later. It tempts one to cynicism.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Mushroom Cloud Morals

The anniversaries of the nuclear strikes on Japan have come around again, providing the opportunity to distinguish between those who see ethics as a peacetime luxury and those of a more principled bent.

Andrew Cusack compiles contemporary reactions, citing at least one author featured here before.

Roger Kimball brushes aside objections.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Peak Oil and Peak Individualism

Patrick Deneen of Georgetown University has written an examination of Peak Oil and Political Theory in five parts: Part I, II, III, IV and V. He holds that an irreversible spike in cheap, effecient fossil fuels portends the end of liberalism:

The liberal goal of individual autonomy – the liberation from oppressive limitations in the form of locality, custom, “given” circumstance, etc., are likely to be increasingly revealed as resting profoundly upon the oil platform – as much, if not more, than the success of the modern economy. While tending not to think of autonomy in these terms, nevertheless its basis upon open opportunity, liberation from circumstance, and extensive mobility, all can be seen in this light as deriving from the unparalleled wealth and liberty provided by our one-time use of the world’s fossil fuel reserves. Various iterations of this form of autonomy, including lifestyle choice, “self-creation” or Emersonian “self-reliance,” expressionist individualism, widespread irony indicating a studied distance from society’s norms, technologically-based personal expression (e.g., in the form of internet identities), and – perhaps most alarmingly to some – feminism in the form of liberation from the drudgery of the household and localities and easy entry into the mainstream economy, are potentially all in danger of extinction as the age of oil comes to a close. A future in which communal demands and local identification becomes far more prevalent suggest a fundamental redefinition of human identity away from a “liberationist” ethic and toward one of communal solidarity (in, perhaps, the most positive-sounding form of the likely change) or (to take the negative case) loss of individual liberty and the oppressive inescapability of folkways and circumstance.

Cheap oil powers not only Middle East oligarchies but destructive modes of Western life.

Deneen also questions whether capitalist optimism can get us through coming difficulties:

We place our hope in the market: just as Malthus was proven wrong, the market will again defeat the pessimist. However, again, a caution is needed: it should be recognized that the stunning modern success of “the market” has only existed in the age of coal and oil. “The market” may be as much an artifact of fossil fuels as the growth economy and liberalism itself. We up the ante of modernity’s wager, believing that a fix will save us just in time. Very little must change, and we continue to invest our hopes in the future of progress. In the future, we may wonder how our ancestors could have been so blinkered.

Professor Deneen's interpretation of our global fossil fuel use suggests we are sacrificing the resources of future generations to the present.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Amputated Ethics of Liberalism

Dangerous Intersection writes of psychologist Jonathan Haidt's enquiry into contemporary popular ethical deliberation. Haidt groups ordinary ethical considerations into five categories: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity. Curiously, liberals tend to view only the first two sets as acceptable ethical concerns, while conservatives tend to include all five.

Haidt speculates on how such a split could have arisen:

How did it come to pass that in much of Europe, and in some parts of the United States, moral concerns have been restricted to issues related to harm/welfare/care and justice/rights/fairness? We believe that a team of historians and sociologists could easily tell such a story, probably involving references to the growth of free markets, social mobility, science, material wealth, and ethnic and religious diversity. Mobility and diversity make a morality based on shared valuation of traditions and institutions quite difficult (Whose traditions? Which institutions?). These factors help explain the electoral map of the United States in the 2004 presidential election. When viewed at the county level, the great majority of counties that voted for John Kerry are near major waterways, where ports and cities are usually located and where mobility and diversity are greatest. Areas with less mobility and less diversity generally have the more traditional five-foundation morality, and therefore were more likely to vote for George W. Bush – and to tell pollsters that their reason was “moral values.”

Of course, historians and political scientists have long told this tale. Liberalism has long been held to be a "least common denominator" morality which truncates traditionalist ethics for the sake of peace in the wake of destroyed religious unity. Many also note how reductionist ethics increase business opportunities by opening up markets for what was once regarded as sacred, or redirecting loyalty towards brands instead of towards people. As standards become increasingly utilitarian this reductive spirit sidelines other considerations, hampering one's ethical growth.

The wider vocabulary of traditionalist ethics allows for greater nuance in theory. Though friendship or marriage, for instance, can be understood as matters of harm and care or fairness and reciprocity, the concepts of loyalty and purity provide further layers for ethical exploration and discussion. Likewise the abandonment of such categories renders the critic powerless to correct their abuses. The lazy secularist must dismiss all appeals to holiness, while a writer genuinely concerned about the sacred is better equipped and motivated to eviscerate cant masquerading as piety.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Pro-life Movement and Criminalization

National Review On-Line has put together a symposium reacting to Anna Quindlen's insistence that anti-abortion logic demands that women procuring abortions should be prosecuted.

Clarke D. Forsythe remarks:
In fact, the irony is that in nearly all of the reported court cases explicitly addressing the issue of whether a woman was an accomplice to her abortion, it was the abortionist (not the prosecutor) who pushed the courts to treat the woman as an accomplice, for the obvious purpose of undermining the state’s criminal case against the abortionist (including the abortionist Ruth Barnett when Oregon last prosecuted her in 1968).