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Godwin’s Law Overturned on Appeal

February 3, 2017

Godwin’s Law is, in the words of Wikipedia,

…an Internet adage which asserts that ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1’—that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler.

…there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned Hitler has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin’s law.

There has always been something that bothered me about that law. It is this: what if a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis is actually apt?

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Quote of the day

January 30, 2017

For all the talk about ‘populism’, what really imbues this White House is nationalism. But not just nationalism in a general sense which can have positive, communitarian aspects. It is a hateful and aggressive nationalism based on zero-sum relationships and a thirst for domination and violence. These are dangerous people.

-Josh Marshall



January 30, 2017

This is not a long post.  This is not a critically reasoned post.  Rather, it is an attempt to explain, partly to myself, why I have decided participate in a bit of Facebook activism.  I don’t usually participate in the social actions that crop up on Facebook, and indeed at times I have been openly critical of folks who, for example, superimpose a French tri-color over their profile picture, particularly if they have never given any indication prior to this that these were issues they cared about.   But this campaign #IamaStranger, started by two Franciscan Friars, has grabbed me viscerally as something I must do.   The campaign is simple:  take a picture of yourself like the one below, include the above hashtag, and share it on social media.

iamastranger                 (personal photo of author)

Long time readers will recognize my skullcap and keffiyeh.  I have blogged before  about wearing these, and I am resolved to continue wearing them.  I say this just to make clear that this is not a costume I donned for the photo, but something I have worn and will continue to wear.  (Indeed, as I type this I am getting ready to go to mass wearing them.)

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Pro-Life Feminism in the Spotlight

January 29, 2017

Infanticide is on the increase to an extent inconceivable…. a recent Medical Convention [in rural Maine] unfolded a fearful condition of society in relation to this subject.  Dr. Oaks made the remark that, according to the best estimate he could make, there were four hundred murders annually produced by abortion in that county alone.  The statement is made in all possible seriousness, before a meeting of ‘regular’ practitioners in the county, and from the statistics which were as freely exposed to one member of the medical fraternity as another.

There must be a remedy even for such a crying evil as this.  But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of woman?

–Editorial, The Revolution, March 12, 1868

In the decades following Roe v. Wade, abortion access has become largely synonymous with women’s rights in much of public discourse and the popular imagination. Yet historical evidence shows that this has not always been the case.  19th-century “first-wave” feminism is best known for its primary emphasis on women’s suffrage, and when the suffragists did speak about abortion they universally condemned it, both as a terrible act of violence in itself and as a symptom of other social problems, particularly for women.  In fact, it was men (namely Larry Lader and Bernard Nathanson, the former especially being more concerned with population control than women’s rights) who convinced initially reluctant later feminists to add abortion to their platform.

Nevertheless, a recent kerfuffle over a billboard by Feminists for Life prompted Deborah Hughes, president of the Susan B. Anthony House, to claim that Anthony never took a public position on abortion.  Carol Crossed, who is president of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, offered the news station in question (which she is local to) evidence to the contrary from The Revolution, the suffragist newspaper Anthony managed with co-editors Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury.  The station has apparently not produced any follow-up to the original segment, but relevant scanned pages from The Revolution can be found on the Birthplace Museum’s website.  (And while FFL’s billboard didn’t mention Anthony directly, they have a nuanced historical examination of her views and those of some of her colleagues and contemporaries here.)

Then, independently of all that (though Hughes and Crossed both responded afterward), Saturday Night Live went there.  The sketch in which Anthony appears to a group of modern women, who first greet her warmly but quickly grow indifferent until she offers the jolting parting shot, “Also, abortion is murder!”, could be read a few different ways: as a cursory nod to pro-life feminism, or a commentary on the superficiality of a merely touristy interest in the accomplishments of historical figures like her, or an attempt to contextualize away her pro-life position as a mere product of her time, as antiquated as her high Victorian collar and stone-heated stove.  But however it was intended, it sparked some timely conversation prior to the Women’s March and the March for Life – especially for those concerned with the intersection of the two.

The Consistent Life Network has an ongoing petition to media outlets to broaden coverage of the pro-life movement to include feminists, peace advocates, and others who fall outside the conventional stereotypes.  Ironically, the exclusion of pro-life feminist groups by the organizers of the Women’s March has to some extent made that happen.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it…

January 28, 2017

And I feel far from fine.

After this first week of the Trump era, I am left without words. I’ll be back in touch when I find them again.

For now, I have three things for you. The first is a quotation from the gospel of Matthew:

¨I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.¨ (Matthew 25:35).

The second is a website that, if you oppose anything you’ve been hearing over the past week, will give you ideas on how to turn discontent into action.

And finally, a poem of mine. I wrote it years ago. Please tear down the walls. Good fences do not make good neighbours.


She is my sister.

I had never visited her family’s shanty,
just as she’d never seen my home in the suburbs.
She always wore the same yellow dress
on her way to the market to sell chewing gum,
while I wore a starched plaid uniform
on my way to school.

Each morning we met on a grassy field
halfway between our homes.
We walked hand in hand,
picking flowers,
sharing secrets
that only the ground beneath could hear.

Then, one morning, they came with their shovels.
“Stand back,” they cried out.
Dazed, we watched
as they started to dig a ditch
and built a chain-linked fence
separating us.

After they, with their shovels, had left,
we passed friendship bracelets
through holes in the fence,
picked dandelions that grew alongside
and blew their seeds so they would grow
thick and fast and knock the fence down.

As teenagers, we found
the chain-linked fence replaced
by a wooden one
with gaps as thin as wafers
through which I barely glimpsed her face.
We still wove flowers through grooves,
still scattered seeds.

Now that we are adults, a brick wall divides us.
Each morning, I go alone,
wondering if she is on the other side,
if she too is pressing her hands against the wall,
kneeling down to plant seeds that
will one day be climbing roses

Somehow I know she too believes
we are sisters,
that halfway between our homes
there is still an open grassy meadow
with only the sky and the ground
as fences.

Fear, Loathing and Donald Trump

January 28, 2017

Over the next four years, I’m going to make a distinction in my posts between Donald Trump and the people who voted for him.

Donald Trump is a narcissistic, grandstanding blowhard, whose presidency is likely to make the venal, corrupt incompetence of George W. Bush’s administration look like the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

With his self-aggrandizing lies, and his more or less constant taking to Twitter to complain about people who are mean to him, I’ve concluded that his presidency is either Dadaist performance art, or that he literally has the emotional maturity of a spoiled 11-year-old girl – one who has the  launch codes to the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

His cabinet picks are “diverse” in the sense that they are largely composed of two groups:

A. People covered head to toe in Wall Street and plutocrat pocket lint, and
B. The people from whose pockets that lint came.

Surprisingly, one of the administration’s first priorities is the passage of a $10 Trillion tax cut, whose benefits will be heavily tilted toward the Wall-Streeters-and-Plutocrats set.

President Trump spent the transition period flouting every ethics convention followed by virtually all of his predecessors. Contrary to long-standing tradition, he has not put his business assets into a “blind trust”, but instead handed control of his businesses off to his family members, and pinky-swears that he won’t listen when those family members sit in the oval office and discuss “their” business dealings in loud voices right in front of him, honest he won’t.

I expect that we will see grift and corruption on an absolutely heroic scale in the next four years.

Perhaps I should be clearer here: I think it is safe to say I’m not Trump’s biggest fan.

All that said, let me shift gears and discuss the people (not all, but a good fraction) who elected Donald Trump to be our president.

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The Verdict of Future History

January 17, 2017

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.
–Abraham Lincoln

The broad and unsentimental sweep of history gives ample evidence that nations great and small arise, thrive to some degree and for a time, and then decline and come apart.

History offers no exceptions.

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