The Rapist Protection Act of 2011 [Updated]

That’s what Dennis G. of Balloon Juice is calling the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” recently introduced in the House. The bill would alter the rape exception for federal assistance for abortions by limiting that assistance to abortions that follow “forcible rape.” A woman drugged and then raped, for example, would no longer be able to get federal assistance to cover the costs of an abortion. Nick Baumann of Mother Jones reports that critics of the bill also worry that it could mean the end of private health insurance coverage for abortions.

The bill aims to make permanent prohibitions against taxpayer funding of abortion. Furthermore, by narrowing the meaning of rape that the federal government will use to determine eligibility to receive financial assistance for abortions, the bill will probably reduce the number of abortions that are paid for with taxpayer dollars. Does this make the sponsors, in the words of John Cole, pro-rape?

No, it doesn’t. Reducing the meaning of the word “rape” here isn’t an attempt to protect rapists or minimize its criminality. Accusations to the contrary are stinky whiffs of hot air. So far as I know, the language of this bill has no applicability toward the general legal definition of rape. The bill is an attempt to solidify within the law limits on federal money that goes to abortions and, apparently, to extend those limits. Even with the Hyde Amendment in place, a fair number of American taxpayers are forced by the law to materially cooperate in a procedure they find morally repugnant. They have no choice in the matter. The current setup doesn’t allow them to simply not have an abortion if they don’t want one; they have to help pay for abortions for others within a limited set of circumstances.

Now I don’t wish to minimize the terrors of being raped and being impregnated by one’s rapist. Nor is my intention to paint anti-abortion taxpayers as the real victims here. Carrying a pregnancy to term involves immense physical and psychological (not to mention financial) commitment and extreme pain, and it can put a woman’s life and health at risk. Pregnancy caused by a rapist compounds and intensifies this suffering. Remote material cooperation with abortion isn’t in the same universe.

However, classifying the bill’s sponsors as the protectors of rapists fails miserably to understand the motives of the sponsors. It’s somewhat akin to pro-lifers painting abortion rights advocates as worshipers of Moloch. Critics can disagree with the bill and point out the negative consequences the bill will have for women, but, seriously, they should respond to what the sponsors are actually attempting to do, attempt to understand their reasons for doing so, and, if they suspect underlying ulterior motives, offer evidence that actually points to those motives. Otherwise, they’re not really taking the efforts of the sponsors seriously. They’re not really responding to the proposed legislation.


Does this bill's new definition of rape have any legal consequence beyond what abortions will be covered with federal government assistance?  I'm not a lawyer and honestly don't know, but I haven't yet seen an argument that the language of this bill could be used a precedent for changing the overall legal meaning of rape.

A Pause to Listen: Vagrant Story by Hitoshi Sakimoto

Theme of Vagrant Story accompanying the credits. The illustrations are also impressive.

Falling Asleep in Narnia

Once he's ready for bed, we read my four-year-old son picture books, usually Star Wars related titles from the library, and then he's told to lie down, get cozy under the covers, and listen as I read him The Chronicles of Narnia. On average, he's out after about three paragraphs.

We've gone through almost four of the novels and I'm pretty sure the boy hasn't absorbed much of the general plots. It's hard to keep track of a narrative when the narrative almost instantly puts you to sleep, so I don't fault him for his minimal recollection of who's who and what's what. At least he can name the reoccurring characters. And I'm pretty sure he knows that Aslan is a lion. Let me check. Yes, he does, though he also just told me he's a tame lion, so he's clearly missing a crucial detail.

I've wondered if I'm inadvertently setting the stage for the boy's future reading of the stories. Will the sleepiness he now experiences at my reading lead him to feel sleepy when he himself picks up the series? I must confess that this possibility doesn't frighten me. Lewis was a master wordsmith and craftsman of the language, but he just wasn't a great teller of stories. The books are interesting as allegories, but they're not all that interesting as narratives. Very little actually happens. And much of what does happen is told through exposition. The stories are kind of, well, boring.

But they work very well for putting the boy to bed. That's a plus.

The Curious Case of Ann O'Connor

This story has been making the rounds. Seems the uber-individualist Ayn Rand received benefits from Social Security and Medicare under the name Ann O'Connor.  So says Ewa Pryror, a social worker and consultant who claims to have secured the payments on Rand's behalf.  This revelation, if true, probably isn't worth more than a titan's shrug, but it's mildly funny.

Retire Final Fantasy

As a nearly lifelong fan of the franchise, it pains me to say it. It’s time. Final Fantasy needs to go. Let the name pass into memory. Let Square Enix bear the series to the stage and Uematsu’s music speak loudly for it. Go, bid the gun-swords shoot.

I bid bringing Final Fantasy to a finale because the name itself has outlived its worth. Square Enix is set to release Final Fantasy XIII-2. You read that right. And we’re still awaiting the release of Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Well, I’m not really awaiting it, as my time with the game series abruptly ended with the launch of the Playstation 3 and my utter dearth of expendable income.

Anyhow, I’m seeing a trend here, one that began with the hokey-sounding Final Fantasy X-2, and one I fear won’t let up even with the irony of the game title stretched well beyond aesthetic appropriateness. Let the name die and continue the games with new titles. Start a new series. Or make more standalone titles such as the near to perfect Vagrant Story—the company’s finest achievement.

As far as I know, the series isn’t getting worse with each new installment. Okay X-2’s turning Yuna into a double-gun-toting Britney Spears was truly bizarre, and not in final fantastical way, but I loved XII as much as the classic VI and VII. It’s simply the painful numbering that beckons me. It’s a pain that no potion, ether, remedy, or elixir can relieve. No spell can cure. No airship can escape.

Names matter. Yes, I’m sure the series title gives each new installment instant credibility with target buyers, but for the sake of all remaining Espers, please, Square Enix, let your imaginations and marketing sense rise to the heavens. Bring us excellent new games with excellent new memorable titles. If for nothing else, do it for the Moogles. Or for Cid.

On Comparing Abortion to Slavery

I remember sometime in the mid 90s being handed a chart that aimed to show similarities between slavery and abortion. I thought it kind of interesting as a comparison, but I don’t recall ever finding it helpful for really understanding the abortion issue or for making a persuasive argument for outlawing abortion. You find slavery morally repugnant, the chart seemed to say, well, abortion is a lot like slavery, so you should find it immoral as well. I don’t know of anyone who was convinced by this line of reasoning, though I do know the points of alleged similarity have been met with criticism and debunking. Rick Santorum’s recent use of the comparison offers a case in point. I’m fairly close to E.D. Kain’s position on the analogy. I understand why it’s used, but I don’t see that it benefits the discussion—of either topic.

Speaking of the slavery analogy, I debated a fellow pro-lifer over the Internet yesterday whose theoretical solution to the legality of abortion was the use of raw power to outlaw it and, if needed, a civil war to settle the matter. A civil war was fought to end slavery, so why not to end abortion? I say theoretical as this person didn’t really wish to start organized acts of violence in the defense of life; still, he thought a civil war might be the only real way of putting a stop to abortion in this country. Suffice it to say that I found his position both puzzling and frightening. It illustrates one place thought can be lead by comparing abortion to slavery.

Remarks on the Willingness to Dissent

All thought begins in the middle of things. It takes its first steps upon ideas already thought. It uses words previously defined. Thought is situated in history; it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. All thought begins with presuppositions. Thinking about the particulars of moral truth presupposes that there is such a thing as moral truth and that we can know it. Thinking about aspects of human nature presupposes that there is such a thing as nature (and humans!) and that it’s intelligible. Even debates about whether such things exist presuppose that the questions about the existence of these things can be answered.

It’s with this in mind that I wish to address the topic of dissent. The word dissent has a negative connotation in orthodox circles because it implies a disagreement with what is true. It may well mean that, in particular instances of dissent, but I want to consider the idea in a more favorable light. While I wouldn’t go so far as to encourage dissent in every situation, I do here advocate for the willingness to dissent from the prevailing presuppositions from which our acts of thinking begin. A few remarks:

First, while the pursuit of truth requires making presuppositions – there’s no way of pursuing truth from nowhere – these presuppositions may be an aid to the exploration or they may be an obstacle. Or they may be both. If we pursue the truth earnestly and responsibly, then no presupposition should achieve an untouchable status, a position where we hold it as unquestionable and beyond critique and contestation. To do so is to cease the pursuit of truth, and at most to pursue a particular way of thinking about it.

Second, responsible thought means responding to what has been thought. It is irresponsible, in the willingness to dissent, to take hold of an opposing idea and run with it as if the opposing idea had never been thought of or considered at length. Doing so not only reveals an arrogance of the dissenter, but also puts the dissenter in an imagined vacuum in which he or she is seemingly detached from the history of ideas. It may be responsible to reconsider morality not as living in accordance with moral truth but rather as having arisen from a psychological source and genesis, but it is irresponsible to assume 1) that the former conception has no answers to give to the latter and 2) that history hasn’t witnessed debates between these positions from which one can learn.

Third, if the willingness to dissent from prevailing presuppositions means something more than an academic exercise, it must imply a willingness to change one’s way of thinking and, as a consequence, a change in the way one lives. The willingness to dissent implies a willingness to go where the journey leads.

Allen! Allen! Allen! Allen! Al! Allen!

This made me smile. A lot.

Somewhere over the Rainbow

I’m finishing a book editing project this week, so posting may be a little light, even lighter than it has been.Yeah , I admit it. Forced to choose between writing for pleasure and writing for a paycheck, I choose the paycheck. That’s just the kind of greedy guy I am.

In the lull of my wit and wisdom and immense ego, I leave you with this nugget courtesy of Dorothy Parker:
“You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.”

Split Like You Mean It

Stephen Bainbridge defends the splitting of infinitives.  Suffice it to splittingly say, I agree with him.  I also approve of making up words.

Does Trickle-down Economics Embody an Option for the Poor?

My expertise in economics matches my proficiency in dentistry: I can tell you something hurts, but I’ve no competence to diagnose what’s causing the pain or to administer procedures that will result in relief. It is therefore with some trepidation that I pose the following question. Putting aside whether or not the theory actually works in practice, a question I don’t here wish to debate, does trickle-down economics embody what has been called in Catholic circles the preferential option for the poor?

I’m inclined to answer that it does not, that while helping to generate pools of capital at the top may benefit the poor through a process of “trickling down,” the theory itself embodies a preferential option for the rich. The theme of the theory seems to be that the best way to help the poor is to help the rich accumulate more of their wealth so that they can spend more money in the marketplace and invest their wealth in infrastructure and markets.

Again, I’m not interested here in whether this theory works in practice, but whether it is compatible with a preferential option for the poor. Does the process of “trickling down” establish such compatibility?

Accurate Expressions?

Jon Stewart interviewed Tim Pawlenty yesterday evening and asked him a question worthy of repetition. Does our political rhetoric, in general, reflect what people think or believe is actually going on in the political arena? For example, when prominent political voices apply to our society or political order words such as tyranny or socialism or fascism, do these words accurately express the mind of the speakers? Did prominent critics of Bush really think him a tyrant? Do prominent critics of Obama really believe he’s a socialist? I’m asking not if these descriptive terms match the reality, but whether or not they are in general spoken honestly and thoughtfully. What are we mostly dealing with when we deal with this language?

A Pause to Watch: Unconventional Love Stories

Amid the whirl of our society’s evolved ideas about love, some of which wave a dismissive hand against its significance, there remains a lingering sense of what love should be and what it’s supposed to look like in the life of lovers. Sometimes this sense is held fast like a doctrine. At other times it is not even grasped at, but unexpectedly floats by, barely perceptive to the senses. Three films I’ve seen somewhat recently take hold of an old-fashioned sense of love while weaving love stories set firmly in our contemporary uncertainty about love’s meaning and its place in the humdrum and hustle and bustle of life.

500 Days of Summer begins with the disclaimer: “Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental ... Especially you, Jenny Beckman ... Bitch.” We know where the rocky romance of Tom and Summer is going, even if they, or at least Tom, doesn’t. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom Hansen, a trained architect who writes greeting cards and falls in love with his boss’s new assistant, Summer Finn, played by Zooey Deschanel. She likes him too, but only for the moment. She’s not waiting around for someone better; she simply doesn’t believe in a love that lasts a lifetime. In her experience, life happens and love ceases. Tom does believe in an everlasting love, and he badly wants to share that kind of love with Summer. “It's love, it's not Santa Claus,” he tells her. For Tom, belief in love is reasonable and something he should be able to expect from Summer, even if she states otherwise from the start and never hides her faithlessness in the ideal for which Tom hopes. The romantic comedy’s central tension develops from the intertwining of Tom’s hope for love affecting Summer’s faith in love and her lack of faith altering the course of his hope.

George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air, Ryan Bingham, is not unlike Summer. He too has no belief in love or any other kind of rootedness. He’s at home in the air, detached from commitments, possessions, anything that might tie him down. He seems perfectly content with the fleeting and forgettable conversations he has with strangers in airports and airplanes. Fellow frequent traveler Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) provides him with uncommitted but planned and playful sex. That’s as attached as he gets or wants to get, until a job-related threat to his comfortable routine, and then the realization that he matters no more than a parenthesis to someone, make him realize that he doesn’t have life, love, and happiness all figured out.

“So, I can hurt now, or hurt later,” muses Claire Dane’s Mirabelle in Steve Martin’s Shopgirl. The story follows Mirabelle in her relationships with two men, the dashing and sophisticated Ray (Steve Martin), who unsuspectingly buys her expensive gloves from her own “shop,” and the awkward and uncouth Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), who has to borrow two dollars from her so they can split the cost of a movie. Neither one of these relationships quite capture Mirabelle’s idea of romance – at least at first – but one of them may bring her some happiness. She has to make a choice, however. The plot doesn’t provide her an easy decision.

On the Intellectually Dangerous

May ruffle some feathers with this one.

A Sinner, of the blog Renegade Trads, takes me to task in a recent Vox Nova thread and on his own blog for venturing into “intellectually dangerous” places. My “vain exercise,” it seems, is impiously exploring the consequences for a Catholic understanding of original sin if science were to show that the whole human race did not descend from the biblical figures Adam and Eve. I may also be living a life of “intellectual promiscuity” by thinking “thoughts better left unthought” and possibly revealing, through my philosophical promiscuousness, “a total lack of faith.”

I plead guilty as charged. I am willing, albeit with fear and trembling, to think thoughts that could lead me to question and even reject my faith. This may be impious of me, but it is not a venture that runs counter to what that in which I have faith calls me to do. I am Catholic because I believe that to which Catholicism directs and disposes me is ultimately true, because that truth has eternal ramifications, and because the way and means by which I get there matter. I believe there is a truth to pursue and true ways and means of pursuing it.

I do not believe, however, that any particular, historically-situated way of thinking about the truth establishes a standard of truth beyond question, criticism, and development. I am willing to entertain new or differing ways of thinking about the human condition, the nature of the cosmos, sin and salvation, good and evil, God, and even the meaning of truth itself. I view as deconstructible any thought constructed in history. I hold that any formula can be reformulated. This is no sin against truth, but a way of protecting truth, of keeping truth more than what we happen at a given moment to think truth is.

We do not believe in formulas, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but in those realities they express, which faith allows us to touch. Touch. Not contain, not encapsulate, not surround or swallow, but touch. There is a difference between thought and that about which we think, and because that is a difference I insist on maintaining, I consider no thought to be the last word. Only one Thought is the Thing Itself. Only one Word is the One Who Speaks.

I have a total lack of faith in formulas and words and thoughts and anything else under the sun: I do not believe these to be the Truth. My faith is in what eludes our formulas, what escapes our words, what dances always ahead of our thoughts. Because of my faith, I am willing, in fear and trembling, to reconsider all that I have considered. If science or philosophy or another pursuit of reason touches upon the truth of something in the domain of reason, something to which theology also speaks, and the claims of each conflict with one another, then I say to theology (though not always only to theology), rethink!

If it is impious of me to say that theology and the Church itself should be willing to reconsider how they understand original sin because their traditional understandings of Adam and Eve may not be scientifically credible, then so be it. I say, without any hesitation, that when the Church makes claims about faith and morals that touch on matters of science, history, or philosophy, it ought to be open to rethinking these claims when a claim of reason presents a conflict. After all, the Church is very clear that we rise to truth on wings of faith and reason. From the Church’s standpoint, the two shouldn’t be in conflict.

Perhaps even more impiously of me, I cannot treat the authoritative responsibility and mission of the Church as an authoritarian power. My acceptance of its authority is not unconditional. If the Church were, for example, to proclaim definitively and with full authority that genocide could be morally dandy or that the earth is 6000 years old or that beer is intrinsically evil, the game would be up. The imp would be out of the bag. The church would have failed its own standard for being true. I don’t say this out of some belief that I know better than God or than the teaching office of the Church, but because if there is such a thing as truth, then it has criteria well beyond the say so of Church or any other authority.

Polygenism and Original Sin

It's my understanding that Catholics, while not bound to take the mythical stories of Genesis literally, are required to believe in the existence of Adam as a specific person from whom the stain of original sin proceeds through the generations.  Pope Pius XII stated in the encyclical Humani Generis:
When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.
In other words, the Church makes a scientific and historical assumption about the figure of Adam based on its theological teaching about original sin.  From what I hear, though, scientific study in the field of genetics has taught us about human origins, and that its discoveries reveal it to be highly unlikely if not physically impossible that the human race descended from one individual.

Pope Pius XII didn't entirely rule out the possibility of polygenism; he just said it was in no way apparent how polygenism and the Church's understanding of original sin could be reconciled.  It's certainly interesting that the children of the Church enjoy no liberty to hold a view in favor of polygenism because a reconciliation of ideas is in no way apparent, as if something not being apparent is enough to place limits on the liberty of thought.  I expect, though, that if science does entirely rule out the idea that we all descended from Adam, the Church will change its teachings on human origins and original sin.  Perhaps slowly and with much kicking and screaming, but a change based on the revelations of science nonetheless.

My question for any readers with backgrounds in theology: if science proves some kind of polygenism, how will the Church change or develop its understandings of original sin and doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception?

(Image: Creation of Adam-Hands by Genece Cupp) 

A Pause to Watch: Leverage

Mrs. Cupp and I finished the first season of Leverage last evening, though she missed a few episodes. She's busier than I, you see.  Overall a fun show about a former top-notch insurance agency investigator named Nathan Ford who left the company after his boss denied coverage on an experimental medical treatment that would have saved his son's life.  He now works, with some of the former criminals he used to track, to provide the powerless with leverage.  Basically he and his team use their expertise at theft to right wrongs inflicted on people for whom the law offers no aid and no justice.

I was a little worried that the show would play the all-too-easy "insurance company equals evil" motif and thereby disparage an entire industry and profession, but we learn at the end of the first season that the insurance company's policy that denied coverage to Nathan's young son was the result of the current CEO and hadn't always been the policy.  In other words, the show doesn't depict the insurance company itself as a villainous institution. Like all institutions, it has its villains and its people trying to do the right thing.

The show's characters drive the plots and help the stories to stay a step above annoying moralizing.  Timothy Hutton plays Nathan Ford as a skilled "honest man" who can lead a team of crooks and keep them focused on the plans he designs.  He grieves for his son, is divorced from his wife, and describes himself as a functional alcoholic--with an emphasis on the functional.

His team is comprised of Sophie Devereaux (Gina Bellman), an excellent con artist, thief, and actress when, and only when, she's engaged in a crime.  Christian Kane, my one allotted man-crush, plays the tough guy Eliot.  Aldis Hodge is the handsome computer geek Hardison, and Beth Reisgraf plays the certifiably insane and much too adorably cute ├╝ber-thief, Parker.  Some shows would remain essential the same with a whole new crop of characters; Leverage isn't one of them.  Take out one character, and the show would be something very different.

The creators of the show, Chris Downey and John Rogers, know how to keep the action rapidly moving while maintaining a slow, steady, and subtle development of the characters.  The relationship between Sophie and Nathan, for example, incarnates the expression "It's complicated."  You know what's there between them, and they do as well, but there are armored-truck-loads of reasons why the two don't form a romantic bond, at least in the initial season.

Here's hoping our library picks up the following seasons.

Sums It Up

My wife's reaction to watching Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: "It's like watching your video games, Kyle. I like the story, but the battles go on for-ev-er."

I  agreed. We laughed a lot, I chuckled at the musical references to Zelda and Final Fantasy, but the movie was about a half an hour too long.  I'd have cut two of the evil exes and simplified the final showdown.