Here's another treat for you from Heather Heying's substack, Natural Selections: Stark and Exposed: It's the Modern Way. I'll include a small excerpt, but first, I'll quote a passage from Chapter 8 of C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the third book of his Space Trilogy, because that is what immediately came to mind when I was reading her essay.
The Italian was in good spirits and talkative. He had just given orders for the cutting down of some fine beech trees in the grounds.
“Why have you done that, Professor?” said a Mr. Winter who sat opposite. “I shouldn’t have thought they did much harm at that distance from the house. I’m rather fond of trees myself.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” replied Filostrato. “The pretty trees, the garden trees. But not the savages. I put the rose in my garden, but not the brier. The forest tree is a weed. But I tell you I have seen the civilized tree in Persia. It was a French attaché who had it because he was in a place where trees do not grow. It was made of metal. A poor, crude thing. But how if it were perfected? Light, made of aluminum. So natural, it would even deceive.”
“It would hardly be the same as a real tree,” said Winter.
“But consider the advantages! You get tired of him in one place: two workmen carry him somewhere else: wherever you please. It never dies. No leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests, no muck and mess.”
“I suppose one or two, as curiosities, might be rather amusing.”
“Why one or two? At present, I allow, we must have forests, for the atmosphere. Presently we find a chemical substitute. And then, why any natural trees? I foresee nothing but the art tree all over the earth. In fact, we clean the planet.”
“Do you mean,” put in a man called Gould, “that we are to have no vegetation at all?”
“Exactly. You shave your face: even, in the English fashion, you shave him every day. One day we shave the planet.”
“I wonder what the birds will make of it?”
“I would not have any birds either. On the art tree I would have the art birds all singing when you press a switch inside the house. When you are tired of the singing you switch them off. Consider again the improvement. No feathers dropped about, no nests, no eggs, no dirt.”
“It sounds,” said Mark, “like abolishing pretty well all organic life.”
“And why not? It is simple hygiene. Listen, my friends. If you pick up some rotten thing and find this organic life crawling over it, do you not say, ‘Oh, the horrid thing. It is alive,’ and then drop it?”
“Go on,” said Winter.
“And you, especially you English, are you not hostile to any organic life except your own on your own body? Rather than permit it you have invented the daily bath.”
“And what do you call dirty dirt? Is it not precisely the organic? Minerals are clean dirt. But the real filth is what comes from organisms—sweat, spittles, excretions. Is not your whole idea of purity one huge example? The impure and the organic are interchangeable conceptions.”
“What are you driving at, Professor?” said Gould. “After all we are organisms ourselves.”
“I grant it. That is the point. In us organic life has produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we want no more of it. We do not want the world any longer furred over with organic life, like what you call the blue mold—all sprouting and budding and breeding and decaying. We must get rid of it. By little and little, of course. Slowly we learn how.
That Hideous Strength was written in 1945, but this doesn't sound nearly as ridiculous as it did when I first read it in college. "By little and little" we have come closer to this attitude than I could ever have believed.
From Dr. Heying's essay I will leave out the depressing part that brought Lewis's book to mind—but I urge you to read it for yourself. Instead, I'll quote the more uplifting end of the story.
Go outside barefoot. Stand there, toes moving in the bare earth, or grass, or moss, or sand. Touch the Earth with your bare skin. Stand on one foot for a while. Then the other. Jump. Stand with your arms wide and gaze upwards at the sun. Welcome it. Do not cover your skin and keep the sun’s rays at bay.
Learn to craft and to make and to grow and to build. Work in clay or wood or metal, in ink or wool or seeds. Build dry stacked stone walls. Mold forms with your hands and your tools. Add color to walls, to fabric, to food. Throw. Weave. Carve. Cure. Ferment. Fire. Braze. Weld. Create that which is both functional and beautiful.
Get cold every day. Go outside under-dressed or open your windows wide for a spell even sometimes in Winter or take a cold shower or immerse yourself in cold, cold water. You will be shocked. And you will be awake. And you will know that you are alive.
Also enjoy being warm. Be grateful for it. Come inside and find a cozy corner. Wrap yourself in a soft woolen blanket. Have a familiar by your side. Run your hands through his fur. Drink warm elixir from a handmade mug. Be present. Consider the past. Build the future.
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The problem with mirrors: a 13-minute discussion. New to me, and profound.
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I've been sorting through old physical and computer files lately. I can't afford to read much of what I process, but occasionally something grabs my attention, and sometimes I find it worth sharing, as a glimpse into the past.
It always surprises me when they say so, but most people these days think of the 1980's as the distant past; it's shocking to me how few people now remember the Berlin Wall, for example. But here's a question I asked in 1989, and I think it's as relevant as ever. I addressed it to teachers, but it goes far beyond education.
I am becoming more and more convinced of the importance of self-confidence in the learning process. There's nothing mysterious about this, of course; I suppose it is quite obvious that it's easier to do anything if you think you can than if you think you can't. At any rate, this is why I was concerned a while back when one of our daughters went through a stage of being convinced—without cause—that she was stupid.
I remember having similar troubles in elementary school myself, but I thought that our children would be immune, because of the openness of their school about standardized test grades (I never knew mine) and the fact that they get letter grades on their report cards instead of the fuzzy comments that I remember.
I was wrong.
Our other daughter, with similar abilities and achievements, had no such difficulty in school, so I did some probing to discover the secret of her self-assurance. I'm sure that her good grades, high test scores, and the praise of her teachers must have some importance, but she dismissed them out of hand, saying, "I know I'm smart because I had third grade spelling words in first grade." Period.
I nearly fell over. In the school where she attended first grade, the children were grouped by ability, regardless of age or grade. Her reading ability put her in with second and third graders for reading and spelling. For reading, this was appropriate; for spelling it was not. Ten to thirty spelling words each week, seemingly random words (no phonetic consistency) that were harder than most of the words she had to learn in fourth grade at her current school. How we suffered (so I thought) over them! In my opinion that was clearly the worst part of her first grade year, one that I would definitely change if I could do it over again. But now she tells me that that was the basis for her positive view of her abilities.
Which leads me to wonder if we are not selling children short. Could it be that they realize that a high score is virtually meaningless if the test was no challenge? That they get more satisfaction out of struggling with something hard than from an unearned, easy success?
What do you say, teachers?
If I got any answer to that question in 1989, I don't remember it. What almost 35 more years of experience have taught me, however, is that (1) Yes, we consistently sell children short, and (2) It's not just a matter of giving children challenges, but of giving them appropriate challenges, because too easy and too hard can each be discouraging.
The question that remains—besides the unanswerable one of how such an individualized program could be achieved in a school setting—is, "How hard is too hard?" My memory of our daughter's experience with a spelling challenge two or three years above her skill level was utter misery that lasted till nearly the end of the school year, when the teacher agreed to back off a bit for her. And yet, and yet, in her mind—and I'm inclined to believe her—it ended up doing her a world of good.
Nobody ever said being a parent was easy!
The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (Sentinel, 2017)
I read Live Not By Lies first. The Benedict Option was written three years earlier, and the two make good companion pieces for asking vitally important questions about our lives, our priorities, and our actions. In Live Not by Lies I preferred the first half of the book to the second; with The Benedict Option my reaction was the opposite. I find myself quarrelling with Dreher in a number of places, but nonetheless highly recommend both books, because he is observant, and he is asking the important questions. Dreher predicts very hard times coming for Christians—and others—as our society diverges more and more radically from its classical Western and Christian roots and values.
In my review of Live Not by Lies I mentioned that despite being specifically written for Christians, it's an important book for a much wider audience. The Benedict Option is less comprehensive in scope, especially the first part, but still useful. In Kindle form, it's currently $10, but if you use eReaderIQ and are patient, you can get it for quite a bit less. And don't forget your public library!
You know I'm not in the business of summarizing books. I don't do it well, for one thing. When one of our grandsons was very young, if you asked him what a book was about, he would instead rattle off the whole thing, word for word from memory. I'm like that, minus the superb memory. But secondarily, I don't think summaries do a good book any favors. The author has put together his arguments, or his plot and characters, in the way he thinks best, and trying to pull it apart and reduce it seems to me rude and unfair. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify my weakness, I don't know.
But if I were forced to write my simplest take-away from The Benedict Option, it would be this: Riding along with the current of mainstream culture may have worked all right for us when American culture was solidly rooted in Judeo-Christian and Western ideals, but that time is long gone. Doing the right thing—whatever that might be in a given situation—might never have been easy, but it's harder than when I was young, and it's on track to get much worse.
With that cheerful thought, here are a few quotes. Bold emphasis is my own.
Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation. (p. 12).
I agree wholeheartedly about building communities, institutions, and networks. However, I don't think we should abandon political work. After all, for half a century, Roe v. Wade looked absolutely unassailable, and now there's at least a small crack. Prudence would say to do both: attend to politics (a civic duty, anyway), without putting our faith in political solutions, and at the same time prioritize the building of helpful communities, institutions, networks—and especially families.
The 1960s were the decade in which Psychological Man came fully into his own. In that decade, the freedom of the individual to fulfill his own desires became our cultural lodestar, and the rapid falling away of American morality from its Christian ideal began as a result. Despite a conservative backlash in the 1980s, Psychological Man won decisively and now owns the culture—including most churches—as surely as the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, and other conquering peoples owned the remains of the Western Roman Empire. (pp. 41-42).
People today who are nostalgic for the 1960's are mostly those who didn't live through them, I think. It was not a nice time.
Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that he had the power to destroy the church. “Your majesty,” the cardinal replied, “we, the clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last eighteen hundred years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”
You can achieve the peace and order you seek only by making a place within your heart and within your daily life for the grace of God to take root. Divine grace is freely given, but God will not force us to receive it. It takes constant effort on our part to get out of God’s way and let His grace heal us and change us. To this end, what we think does not matter as much as what we do—and how faithfully we do it. (p. 52).
[T]he day is coming when the kind of thing that has happened to Christian bakers, florists, and wedding photographers will be much more widespread. And many of us are not prepared to suffer deprivation for our faith. This is why asceticism—taking on physical rigors for the sake of a spiritual goal—is such an important part of the ordinary Christian life. ... [A]scetical practices train body and soul to put God above self. ... To rediscover Christian asceticism is urgent for believers who want to train their hearts, and the hearts of their children, to resist the hedonism and consumerism at the core of contemporary culture. (pp. 63-64).
For most of my life ... I moved from job to job, climbing the career ladder. In only twenty years of my adult life, I changed cities five times and denominations twice. My younger sister Ruthie, by contrast, remained in the small Louisiana town in which we were raised. She married her high school sweetheart, taught in the same school we attended as children, and brought up her kids in the same country church.
When she was stricken with terminal cancer in 2010, I saw the immense value of the stability she had chosen. Ruthie had a wide and deep network of friends and family to care for her and her husband and kids during her nineteen-month ordeal. The love Ruthie’s community showered on her and her family made the struggle bearable, both in her life and after her death. The witness to the power of stability in the life of my sister moved my heart so profoundly that my wife and I decided to leave Philadelphia and move to south Louisiana to be near them all. (pp. 66-67)
Dreher wrote about his sister's struggle and the effect it had on him in The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which I have also read, and may eventually review. As with all of his books, I have mixed feelings about that one. He idolizes his sister and her choices in a way I find uncomfortable, and reduces almost to a footnote the damage those choices did, to him and to others.
Saint Benedict commands his monks to be open to the outside world—to a point. Hospitality must be dispensed according to prudence, so that visitors are not allowed to do things that disrupt the monastery’s way of life. For example, at table, silence is kept by visitors and monks alike. As Brother Augustine put it, “If we let visitors upset the rhythm of our life too much, then we can’t really welcome anyone.” The monastery receives visitors constantly who have all kinds of problems and are seeking advice, help, or just someone to listen to them, and it’s important that the monks maintain the order needed to allow them to offer this kind of hospitality. (p. 73).
Father Benedict believes Christians should be as open to the world as they can be without compromise. “I think too many Christians have decided that the world is bad and should be avoided as much as possible. Well, it’s hard to convert people if that’s your stance,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to help people to see their own goodness and then bring them in than to point out how bad they are and bring them in.” (p. 73).
Though orthodox Christians have to embrace localism because they can no longer expect to influence Washington politics as they once could, there is one cause that should receive all the attention they have left for national politics: religious liberty. Religious liberty is critically important to the Benedict Option. Without a robust and successful defense of First Amendment protections, Christians will not be able to build the communal institutions that are vital to maintaining our identity and values. What’s more, Christians who don’t act decisively within the embattled zone of freedom we have now are wasting precious time—time that may run out faster than we think. (p. 84).
I know the book was written for Christians, but I wish Dreher had also emphasized how important this is for everyone. No one can afford to ignore the trampling of someone's Constitutional rights, even if they don't affect us personally. If Christians lose their First Amendment protections, no person, no group, no idea is safe.
Lance Kinzer is living at the edge of the political transition Christian conservatives must make. A ten-year Republican veteran of the Kansas legislature, Kinzer left his seat in 2014 and now travels the nation as an advocate for religious liberty legislation in statehouses. “I was a very normal Evangelical Christian Republican, and everything that comes with that—particularly a belief that this is ‘our’ country, in a way that was probably not healthy,” he says. That all fell apart in 2014, when Kansas Republicans, anticipating court-imposed gay marriage, tried to expand religious liberty protections to cover wedding vendors, wedding cake makers, and others. Like many other Republican lawmakers in this deep-red state, Kinzer expected that the legislation would pass the House and Senate easily and make it to conservative Governor Sam Brownback’s desk for signature. It didn’t work out that way at all. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce came out strongly against the bill. State and national media exploded with their customary indignation. Kinzer, who was a pro-life leader in the House, was used to tough press coverage, but the firestorm over religious liberty was like nothing he had ever seen. The bill passed the Kansas House but was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate. The result left Kinzer reeling. “It became very clear to me that the social conservative–Big Business coalition politics was frayed to the breaking point and indicated such a fundamental difference in priorities, in what was important,” he recalls. “It was disorienting. I had conversations with people I felt I had carried a lot of water for and considered friends at a deep political level, who, in very public, very aggressive ways, were trying to undermine some fairly benign religious liberty protections.”
Over and over he sees ... legislators who are inclined to support religious liberty taking a terrible pounding from the business lobby. (p. 84-86).
Nothing matters more than guarding the freedom of Christian institutions to nurture future generations in the faith. (p. 87).
Agreed—except that I would put "Christian parents" or just "parents" ahead of "institutions." Dreher is a strong advocate for Christian schools at every level, especially the so-called Classical Christian schools with their emphasis on rigorous academics. However, he gives short shrift to home education, an option that is at least as important and in need of support.
Because Christians need all the friends we can get, form partnerships with leaders across denominations and from non-Christian religions. And extend a hand of friendship to gays and lesbians who disagree with us but will stand up for our First Amendment right to be wrong. (p. 87).
Over and over again I have seen the importance of these partnerships. In all the "fringe" movements I've been a part of, from home education to home birth to small and sustainable agriculture, this collaboration with others with whom we had next to nothing else in common made progress for the movements, and—which was perhaps even more valuable—forced us to work beside and learn to appreciate those who were in other ways our political opponents.
Most American Christians have no sense of how urgent this issue is and how critical it is for individuals and churches to rise from their slumber and defend themselves while there is still time. We do not have the luxury of continuing to fight the last war. (pp. 87-88).
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I didn't expect to like this Wall Street Journal article about the board game, Risk. Unlike nearly all the rest of my extended family, I am not a fan of most board games, especially if they involve intricate strategy and take a long time to complete. It's even worse if I'm playing with people who care whether they win or lose. If I ever played Risk, it wasn't more than once.
But I enjoyed the article, and I understood most of it because of having been surrounded by so many people who love to play the game. The author makes a good case that playing the game taught many of us "everything we know about geography and politics."
A certain kind of brainy kid will reach adulthood with a few general rules for foreign policy: Don’t mass your troops in Asia, stay out of New Guinea, never base an empire in Ukraine. It is the wisdom of Metternich condensed to a few phrases and taught by the game Risk.
The game could be played with up to six players, each representing their own would-be empire, and could last hours. The competition could turn ugly, stressing friendships, but we all came away with the same few lessons. ... In the end, no matter who you call an ally, there can only be one winner, meaning that every partnership is one of convenience. If you are not betraying someone, you are being betrayed. Also: No matter what the numbers suggest, you never know what will happen when the dice are rolled. ... Regardless of technological advances, America will always be protected by its oceans. It is a hard place to invade. What they say about avoiding a land war in Asia is true. It is too big and desolate to control. Ukraine is a riddle ... stupid to invade and tough to subdue because it can be attacked from so many directions, making it seem, to the player of Risk, like nothing but border.
Here's my favorite:
The best players ask themselves what they really want, which means seeing beyond the board. I learned this from my father in the course of an epic game that started on a Friday night and was still going when dawn broke on Saturday. His troops surrounded the last of my armies, crowded in Ukraine. I begged for a reprieve.
“What can I give you?” I asked.
He looked at the board, then at me, then said, “Your Snickers bar.”
“My Snickers bar? But that’s not part of the game.”
“Lesson one,” he said, reaching for the dice. “Everything is part of the game.”
And finally, one amazing side note. The man who invented Risk, French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, also created the award-winning short film, The Red Balloon.
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Back in the 1970's, I worked at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. One of my favorite things to do on my lunch break was to wander over to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of the associated Strong Memorial Hospital, and watch in admiration as the tiny children fought for their lives. Actually, there were some pretty big infants, too—babies born to diabetic mothers, weighing in at 14 or 15 pounds at birth, but with dangerous complications. My favorites were always the twins, which were commonly born early, and extra small. Not every family had a happy ending, but the best days were when our small "charges" disappeared from view because they had graduated out of the NICU.
I was thinking about this recently because of this story, out of Canada: Doctor Said Mom's Efforts to Save Her Babies Were a "Waste of Time," Now they're 3 and Thriving.
A mom from Canada who went into labor with twins at just shy of 22 weeks gestation was told by her doctor that they would die the day they were born. However, she refused to give up on her babies, and against the odds, her baby girls pulled through, heading home after 115 days in the NICU.
“When I went into labor, the doctor told me, 'The twins will be born today and they will die,'" she said. "I said, 'Excuse me?' and she said, 'Babies this gestation simply do not survive. It’s impossible.' ... She told me she wouldn’t let me see the twins, or hear their heartbeats, because it was a 'waste of time.'"
After four painful days of abysmal care at the unnamed Canadian hospital,
A new doctor entered the room and informed the couple that they could transfer to a London, Ontario, hospital to deliver the twins. ... Luna and Ema were born in London at 9:12 and 9:29 p.m., respectively. Luna weighed just over 14 ounces (approx. 0.39 kg) and measured 11 inches long; Ema weighed 1 pound (0.45 kg) and measured 12 inches long.
The twins were in the NICU for a total of 115 days and were discharged even before their due date. ... Today, the twins are thriving at 3 years old [and] are developmentally caught up to their full-term peers.
Forty years ago, the staff at "our" NICU had told us that they had saved babies born as early as 20 weeks and weighing less than a pound, and expected to continue to improve outcomes and to push the boundaries back. Forty years! I know there has been a lot of progress made in the care of preterm babies since then, primarily from the story of friends-of-friends quintuplets born ten years ago in Dallas.
So how is it that doctors and hospitals are condemning little ones like this to death, and consider 22 weeks' gestation a minimum for survival—and even then only at a few, specialized hospitals. What has hindered the progress Strong Hospital's doctors had so eagerly anticipated?
I can think of a few roadblocks. Number one, perhaps, is that we like to think that progress is inevitable. But there's no little hubris in that. Progress is not guaranteed over time, nor is it consistent.
Then there are funding priorities. Adequate financing may not be a sufficient condition for making progress, but it's a necessary one. Has improvement in preterm baby care been a funding priority over the last 40 years?
And of course there's the most difficult problem of all. Do we, as a society, as a country, as the medical profession in general—do we really want to save these babies? They cost a lot of money: for research, for facilities, for high-tech care, for months in the hospital, and often for special education and care throughout their lives, since babies on the leading edge of the survival curve are at higher risk for lifelong difficulties.
Most of all, does the idea of saving the lives of earlier and earlier preterm babies force us to consider the elephant in the room? How long can a society endure in which we try desperately to save the life of one child of a certain age, while casually snuffing out the life of another child of the same age, based solely on personal choice?
Having overheard someone questioning why Coventry Carol was included in our church's Lessons and Carols service earlier this month, I knew it was time to reprise our story of why this song of immeasurable grief belongs in this season of festive joy.
Coventry Carol is an ancient song that tells a story almost as old as Christmas. The events take place sometime after the birth of Christ—after the arrival of the Wise Men, from whom King Herod learns of the birth of a potential rival, and decides to do what kings were wont to do to rivals: kill him. Don't know which baby boy is the threat? No problem, just kill them all.
This song is a lament, a lullaby of the mothers of Bethlehem, whose baby boys would be killed in what came to be called the Massacre of the Innocents. (Jesus escaped, Joseph having been warned in a dream to get out of Dodge; the others are considered the first Christian martyrs—people whose association with Jesus led to their deaths.)
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters two, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and may,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay
Why sing such a gloomy song at Christmas?
Several reasons, maybe. Chief of which is that the Christian Christmas is not like the secular Christmas. It is, indeed, "tidings of great joy," but it is complicated, messy, profound, anything but simplistic and lighthearted. It breaks into the midst of a broken world, and even Jesus' escape from death here is only a short reprieve. There's more to Christmas than the joy of new birth, or even "peace on earth, good will to men." We have to tell the whole story.
Twenty years ago, as the world was beginning in earnest to "ring out the tidings of good cheer," our firstborn daughter gave birth to our first grandchild.
Isaac lived two days.
It was in that season of unspeakable grief that the haunting Coventry Carol touched me as none other could. Frankly, I could not handle all the happy songs about a newborn baby boy; with Coventry Carol I felt merged into an ancient and universal grief, the grief that made Christmas necessary.
Until the Day when all is set right, there will be pain and grief that won't go away just because the calendar says it's December. The last few years, especially, have wounded us all and broken not a few. This reminder that the First Christmas was not a facile Peace on Earth and Joy to the World, and that the first Christian martyrs were Jewish children, is for all whose pain threatens to overwhelm them.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
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Maybe you smoked some pot when you were young. Or know that your parents did. I did not, except second-hand and co-mingled with tobacco smoke, back in the days when our college movie theater—along with nearly everywhere else—put no restrictions on polluting the indoor air. I saw no reason to foul my lungs and risk fouling my brain. Maybe you think you survived your experiences unscathed. Maybe you did—though you will never know.
So maybe you think marijuana is harmless, remembering the fuss and scare-mongering from your youth. Maybe you are thrilled that in many places marijuana has "gone legit." But this is not your father's weed. Perhaps you thought that legalizing marijuana would take it out of the hands of the drug dealers, that it would be purer and safer.
Truly, the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. It seems we have not supplanted the illegal drug dealers and dishonest suppliers, but rather supplemented them with equally greedy mega-businesses, and replaced the lone marijuana plant or two growing in someone's apartment with chemical factories producing ultra-high-potency products that can maim and kill.
Here are two links to one family's story, the tragedy that alerted me to the problem.
Mila's Story, on Heather Heying's Natural Selections substack, and What Happened to Our Daughter; the latter is from the family's Slowdown Farmstead substack and tells the same story slightly differently, with more details about the drug problem (and lots of references). Be sure to notice how quickly Mila's mind disintegrated after her first encounter with the drug.
It wasn't just the marijuana that killed Mila. Suicide is always a complex event, with more than one contributing factor.
When you read Mila's story, you'll see that there's no shortage of guilty parties: the school drug counsellor to whom Mila went for help against the addiction that she knew was destroying her, whose response was merely to advise her to "moderate her use"; the First Nations reservation that supplied the dangerous drug "pens" to children, against which the Canadian government was apparently powerless; and most of all, the Canadian governments (federal and provincial) whose draconian COVID-19 restrictions left vulnerable high school students with literally nothing to do and no place to go. The Devil had a field day with those idle hands and minds.
We are just beginning to recognize what is certain eventually to be acknowledged as the truth: that the COVID closures, lockdowns, and travel restrictions, along with masking, social distancing, and vaccine mandates, have destroyed more individuals, families, and relationships than the COVID virus ever did.
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YouTube is not exactly reliable when it comes to recommending videos for me to watch, but look what showed up in my sidebar tonight:
As most of my readers know, I'm a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, but not of the movies for a number of reasons. Even though I feel the film story line and characterization are a betrayal of the spirit Tolkien put into his world, I can't deny that there are parts of the movies that are excellent, from the New Zealand setting to the music, and of course I adore this version.
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There are a number of people—I certainly am one of them—who strenuously object to being unwilling medical guinea pigs in the matter of the COVID-19 vaccines.
I'm all for medical research, worked as part of a medical research team, and have been a willing human guinea pig in a few experiments myself. This work, when done carefully, knowledgeably, and ethically, is an essential part of scientific and medical advancement. But the ethically part is essential, and I don't think it's ethical to "enroll" masses of people in experiments for which there cannot possibly be adequate knowledge of the risks, and thus they cannot possibly give "informed consent." Plus, when there is no documented, adequate control group, not to mention that the experimenters have done their best to make sure there cannot be an adequate control group—well, then you've lost good science as well as ethics.
You're thinking I'm talking about the COVID-19 vaccines here, and I am—but that's not all. I don't know how many times we've been unknowingly subjected to these unethical experiments, but I do know that it has happened at least two other times in my lifetime.
Aspirin used to be the standard, go-to medication for children, even babies, with fevers or discomfort. I vividly remember the doctor recommending alternating doses of aspirin and acetaminophen when my infant daughter had a stubborn high fever. This was in the early 1980's, and for most people it worked just great. However, there appeared to be a possible correlation between aspirin use in children and young teens, in combination with a viral illness (often chicken pox), and a rare but sometimes fatal condition called Reye Syndrome. We had many doctors among our coworkers, and had no reason not to believe what they told us at the time: The decision to tell doctors and parents to avoid giving aspirin to children was a deliberate, national experiment: They thought aspirin caused Reye's Syndrome in children, but they couldn't prove it, so they hoped that if aspirin use went down dramatically, and so did the incidence of Reye, their point would be made. The disorder did, indeed, retreat significantly, whether through causation or merely correlation is still unknown. The cynic in me insists on pointing out that, whatever the stated reasons for this massive non-laboratory experiment, and whatever good might or might not come of it, one clear result was that a cheap, readily-available, and highly effective drug was massively replaced by one still under patent. The patent for acetaminophen (Tylenol) did not expire until 2007, and Tylenol was still reeling from the 1982 poisoned-Tylenol-capsules scare. Practically overnight, and with timing highly favorable to the pharmaceutical industry, Tylenol became the drug of choice for a large segment of the population.
The next example I remember of such a huge, non-controlled experiment happened in the early 1990's, and was not a drug but a parenting practice: the insistence by the medical profession that all babies never be allowed to sleep on their stomachs. Sleep position recommendations have flip-flopped several times over the years. The professionals never think it safe to leave that decision up to the babies and their parents, they just keep changing what it is that is "the only safe way for a baby to sleep." Personally, I think "whatever helps the baby sleep best" is almost always the right choice. (But I am not a doctor, nor any other medical professional, so make your own choices and don't sue me.)
Early in the 1990's the thought was that back-sleeping might reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Indeed, there was a decline after the "Back to Sleep" push went into effect, though once again the experiment was unscientific with no significant control group. Certainly there were still parents who put their babies to sleep on their stomachs, but if there was any widespread study of them I never heard of it, and indeed the data was necessarily corrupted because the pressure was so great not to do so that few parents talked openly about it. And doctors, even if they were well aware of the advantages of stomach-sleeping, could not risk mentioning them to their patients. I remember vividly the one young mother who, months later, confessed to the pediatrician that her son had always slept on his stomach. The doctor laughed, saying, "Of course I knew that! Look at how advanced he is, and look at the perfect shape of his head!" But stomach-sleeping is still very much a "don't ask, don't tell" situation.
These massive, uncontrolled, and to my mind unethical experiments on the human population are justified in the minds of many because, after all, they "did their job." Deaths from Reye Syndrome, SIDS, and COVID-19 have all fallen, so who cares how we got there?
Well, I care—and so should anyone who believes in the scientific method, the Hippocratic Oath, and open, honest, and ethical research.
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Something unusual happened in our water aerobics class.
I had fun. I had fun participating in something resembling a sport.
So what? Well, here's the big deal: I don't think that has happened since elementary school.
I loved physical activity back then. Sports, even. Soccer, kickball, dodge ball, volley ball, gymnastics, trampoline. I even enjoyed the since-much-maligned Presidents Physical Fitness test. I was one of the best in school at swarming up a rope to the ceiling. After school, the neighborhood kids played active games, usually until dark. I was reasonably strong and fit—most children were, in those days—and loved active play.
What happened? Don't say I got old, or busy, though of course I did both. Don't blame it on phones or computers; this was long before these became part of my life.
Physical activity changed. Sports changed. Most people adapted; I didn't.
Back in my day, soccer wasn't the organized sport it is today for even the youngest. We had goals, we had a ball, we had a few basic rules (e.g. "no hands"), and we had a gaggle of kids roughly organized into two "teams." What we did, what I loved, was to run madly up and down the field, trying to kick the ball into the goal. Except for goalie, there were no assigned positions; it was literally a free-for-all. No one today would deign to call it soccer. But it sure was fun.
Volleyball was similar. Again, we had two teams—their composition always changing—a net, a ball, and a few basic rules. But no assigned positions. Serving, but little setting. Just a madcap "let's hit the ball over the net." And I loved it.
For many other people, the eventual organization of sports, honing of skills, multiplication of rules and tactics, and emphasis on competition made the games more fun. The rest of us, I guess, simply dropped out, to the detriment of both our physical and our mental health.
Which is why I was so excited when our instructor suddenly decided that Thursdays would be play days. She gave us small beach balls, and paddles, and organized us very loosely in games of no recognizable sport, but which—in groups, in pairs, and individually—challenged us to use our muscles in ways we hadn't used in a long time: reaching, jumping, running; increasing our strength, agility, and hand-eye coordination—all those things that sports are good for.
Perhaps best of all, when we played together, we became people to each other, not just a group of individuals gathered for healthful exercise. We looked at each other, we made eye contact, we worked together to make sure everyone was included and benefitting.
I was a kid again.
The following is a Dark Horse clip about the significant increase in myopia in children, as reported in this Atlantic article. Bret and Heather have issues with the article, but confirm the myopia problem and have their own theories about it. And, at the end, about orthodontia. It's 30 minutes long—and there's a section in the middle where they spend maybe too much time on the concept of "heritability"—so if you can stand it, you may want to speed up the playback. But I highly recommend watching the video, particularly to parents who are concerned about their children's eyes and teeth. I guess that would be all parents....
As I've said before, Bret and Heather are not always right, and sometimes dangerously wrong. But they are always interesting, and impressive in their quest for truth and their willingness to follow where it leads them, regardless of the popularity of their opinions.
Since COVID isn't so much of a problem in New York City anymore, Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Health & Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz have come up with a new way to terrorize those who must be admitted to a Big Apple hospital. At the moment, it's just three facilities: H+H/Lincoln, Metropolitan, and Woodhull Hospitals, but it's feared the contagion may spread.
If you're unfortunate enough to be admitted to one of those hospitals, keep an eye on your dinner plate.
Culturally diverse plant-based meals are now the primary dinner options for inpatients.
Don't panic, NYC residents and visitors. I'm here to reassure you that this problem is not actually new, and there are ways around it.
Back in the mid-1980's, when we moved to Florida, we were warned that our local hospital was run by Seventh-Day Adventists, and consequently meat was never on the menu. The solution, we were told, was to be sure that your doctor provided you with a prescription for meat. I have no idea if making it a prescription increased the cost of meals fifty-fold, or if any insurance plans covered it. But we were assured that the hospital honored the doctors' orders, and the kitchen staff even did a better-than-usual job of preparing the special meals.
Apparently the same work-around will be honored in New York.
Non-plant-based options continue to be available and are offered in accordance with a patient’s prescribed diet.
Choose your doctor well.
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It started innocently enough, with an e-mail from AncestryDNA informing me of an additional trait revealed by my genetic makeup: my inclination to seek out or to avoid risky behavior. I could have predicted the result: I definitely prefer to avoid risk. Except, of course, that if I were as risk-averse as they say I am, I wouldn't be about to write something that could get me cancelled by Facebook.
The trigger was in one of Ancestry's explanatory paragraphs:
The world around you also affects your appetite for risk. Younger people and folks who were assigned male at birth report taking the most risks, which may be influenced by environmental factors like social rewards. Some influences are closer to home, like whether your parents encouraged risk taking. Also, our popular understandings of risk may skew more toward physical and financial risks than emotional ones. It's not only risky to do things like step onto a tightrope blindfolded. It's also risky to be honest about your feelings, admit ignorance, and express disagreement. In other words, it's risky to be yourself.
Really, Ancestry? Folks who were assigned male at birth? You mean men? If there's one place I'd expect to be free from this massacre of language, not to mention of reality, it would be a company that makes its money telling people about their chromosomes. When the attendants at my birth announced, "It's a girl!" they were not assigning my sex, they were revealing it, and AncestryDNA should know that better than anybody. Is there any point in trusting the other things they say about my genetics if they think that whether I was born with XX or XY chromosomes is something that was chosen by the birth attendants? Maybe the doctor determined my skin color, too? And the nurse decided I would be right-handed? Humbug.
When American women began coloring their hair, the object was to appear natural (no purple!). Clairol's popular commercial advertising their product contained the catchphrase, "Only her hairdresser knows for sure." My ophthalmologist amended that to, "... and her eye doctor."
While examining my eyes, he had casually announced, "You're actually a blonde." My hair, at that time, was brown, with a smattering of grey. All natural, I might add. A towhead as a child, I had gradually morphed into a brunette. Or so I thought.
"How do you know that?" I questioned.
"You have a blonde fundus. You can dye your hair and fool most people, but your eyes know the truth."
A brand-new story is on its way from S. D. Smith, creator of the Green Ember series. There's a trailer at JackZulu.com, and I'm sure more information will follow.
In the meantime, two of the Green Ember books are currently free for Kindle, with more to come next week. But really, the regular Kindle prices are so low, it's not worth stressing of you miss the sales.