Responsibility & health are inseparable

And whatever happened to Cleary?Okay, what do Arlo Guthrie; Joan Baez; Richie Havens; Ravi Shankar; Santana; Grateful Dead; Creedence Clearwater Revival; Sly and the Family Stone; The Who; Jefferson Airplane; Joe Cocker; Country Joe and the Fish; The Band; Blood, Sweat & Tears; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and Sha-Na-Na have in common? If you are under the age of 30 you may not have any idea. But older generations know these musical legends participated in the largest and, in retrospect, surely the greatest rock concert of all time in Bethel, New York from August 15-18, 1969. On the 40th anniversary of Woodstock we are reminded of the untimely deaths of two other big names to perform that weekend, Janice Joplin and Jimmy Hendricks. And what did Elvis Pressley, Michael Jackson, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, Sigmund Freud, Len Bias, Lenny Bruce¸ Kurt Cobain, Freddy Mercury, Judy Garland, Margaux Hemingway, Christina Onassis, Freddie Prinze, Ike Turner, Hank Williams, and Howard Hughes have in common with Joplin and Hendricks? Each died from suspected complications from drug abuse or a drug overdose. They lost control of their own lives through drug addiction and left an enduring legacy which will, forever, diminished their otherwise great accomplishments. There are other types of addictions also known to be hazards to your health. In 1966, Congress mandated the following message be included on every pack of cigarettes "CAUTION: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health" and was replaced in 1970 by one saying "WARNING: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health." And yet, forty-three years later it is estimated there are 45 million adult American smokers, 70% of whom want to quit. So quit!

To paraphrase a rather well-known quote from 16th century English farmer and writer Thomas Tusser (1524-1580) ‘A fool and his money are soon parted…and after mindlessly wasting money on an addiction one is soon parted from this life!’ Isn’t it pretty clear that nearly all additions or abuses- primarily personal choices- will lead to a certain and untimely death.

Therefore, in order to take care of the growing number of citizens who make irresponsible choices every day to destroy their health I propose we create a universal health care program to take care of them. A universal health care program supported by and run by the government, of course. That sounds reasonable and fair. Reasonable until we realize the government has no money and they have to take the hard-earned money from most Americans who make better lifestyle choices, in order to take care of those who don’t. Wait a minute…that makes no sense at all. Whose dumb idea was that?

Last week, the 44th President of the United States indicated he wanted to make something perfectly clear, and “make no mistake about it, we will have a national health care program.” Mr. President, let me make one thing perfectly clear: we don’t want a national health care program administered by the U.S. government…the same government which is in the process of nationalizing the automobile industry, our banking system and more. You are destroying our country.

Or do you remember Hillary Rodham’s book “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us”? In the book Mrs. Clinton promotes a society in which all of a child’s needs should be met by individuals and groups outside the family. Really? The title of the book stirred immediate opposition. In 1996, Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole said "... with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.” Amen, Senator Dole.

In his 1989 State of the Union address President G.H.W. Bush (#41) referred to a ‘thousand points of light’ reflecting the dominant theme of conservatism in the '80's. Problems, he said, weren't going to be solved by a central government. Problems were going to be solved by the thousands of individuals doing the right thing. He and Senator Dole were talking about personal responsibility. What a concept!

On life, some believe in destiny, that everything is predetermined, and they must play the hand they’ve been dealt. Many deal with it gracefully. Others say “Woe is me, this isn’t fair, why me?” They believe society’s problems are the government’s problems. While these problems may have been caused by the government do we really want the government to solve them? If you think you have it bad I have a cure for you: visit a Veteran’s hospital.

Others believe you create your own destiny. To an extent that is certainly true. Throughout life we have many choices to make (free will) and some make far wiser choices than others. We’ve all met people who literally make themselves sick, through worry, self-induced stress, bad habits, or other means.

So it follows that we have another choice…to have a more positive attitude and to deal directly with issues as they present themselves to us? Is it possible that there is a direct relationship between one’s physical and mental well-being? I am living proof that this is absolutely true.

Another who felt very strongly about that was prominent political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate Norman Cousins (1915-1990). His most riveting writing was about mind over illness.

Two of his writings were: • Anatomy of an illness as perceived by the patient : reflections on healing (1979), and • Head first : the biology of hope and the healing power of the human spirit (1989)

Cousins also served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he did research on the biochemistry of human emotions, which he long believed were the key to human beings’ success in fighting illness. Battling heart disease and told that he had little chance of surviving, Cousins developed a recovery program incorporating mega doses of Vitamin C, along with a positive attitude, love, faith, hope, and laughter induced by Marx Brothers films.

Regarding celebrities and rock stars we glorify and, in some cases, deify them. At the same time we choose to ignore their lifestyles or song lyrics which directly impact the behaviors and future choices of our children. It is high time to redefine qualifications for the celebrity status we confer on so many who, quite simply, do not deserve the honor.

So, are you looking for a new role model, a new hero? How about anyone who has worn the uniform of our country in service to what is still, far and away, the greatest nation on Earth?

=================== EPILOGUE

Who is Cleary? I have never met anyone by the name of Cleary…but don’t you think there is someone named Cleary at this very moment, yet another fool, who is parting with his or his family’s money, who is wasting his life, and who will most assuredly suffer a premature death due to drug abuse? If you are out there Cleary, stop your foolishness right now, stop your senseless and selfish extracurricular and illegal activity and turn your life around now. It’s probably too late...but maybe not. And that goes for anyone else who is in the process of self-destruction. Why? Because I don’t want to pay for your healthcare.

What is the future for newspapers?

In recent years several major metropolitan newspapers have gone out of business and more have cut back considerably on their coverage. The reason is a decline in readership and advertising revenue, mostly because of the popularity of the internet but also because of reader dissatisfaction. Advertising provides the bulk of newspaper revenue, while subscriptions and street or other sales lag far behind. However, the larger the circulation, the larger the market for products or services advertised in the newspaper, so readers and ads are inextricably connected. A decline in circulation leads to a decline in advertising. As one who grew up with newspapers and believed that they were here to stay, it is a shock that this can no longer be taken for granted. The truth is, many people who do not read newspapers give no indication that they will ever do so. Does this mean that newspapers are doomed?

Maybe, maybe not. But a friend asked a question of me the other day which made me wonder if the alternative to the newspapers going the way of the dodo bird is lurking in the shadows. My friend asked: "Is there a possibility that with the evaporation of ad revenue, the print media will drift back toward express partisanship?"

My answer was "Yes." Let me explain why. Originally, newspapers were not very profitable and many fell by the wayside. Whig (or Patriot) newspapers competed with Tory (or Loyalist) newspapers during the American Revolution and later divided over the wisdom of establishing a national government. After the people elected their first national Congress and president in 1788, newspapers turned to political parties for subsidies, as well as government printing contracts. The most prominent were the Gazette of the United States, a Federalist organ supported by Alexander Hamilton, and the National Gazette, a Republican newspaper supported by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These and other more or less intelligent, wide-ranging and often mud-slinging publications dominated the political and journalistic landscape until the Civil War. But technological changes made possible a change in the character of the newspapers, although how much is a matter for debate.

The introduction of the high speed rotary press in the 1830s reduced printing costs and enabled publishers to give up party patronage. Editors’ partisanship replaced party loyalty. Newspapers sold for as little as one penny and attracted many readers who were less interested in national politics than they were in local developments, especially crime and scandal. The audience had expanded beyond political partisans. The invention of the telegraph in 1832 and the subsequent establishment of the Associated Press in 1848 made it possible to provide wider coverage by many newspapers sharing a few correspondents at sources of news around the country. The price for mass circulation newspapers was the foregoing of overt partisanship in what came to be called news pages and the open presentation of political opinions on the editorial page (while reaping the benefits of large circulation and heavy advertising). The price for the wire services was the need for correspondents carefully to tailor their accounts to newspapers with varying political opinions. The device of choice was the inverted pyramid in which the more important news appeared first and the less important was placed further down in the article, making it simple to edit due to limited space.

In my opinion, the model newspaper in that period and for many years thereafter was the New York Times, founded in 1851. Publisher Henry J. Raymond combined devotion to the Republican party with dedication to factual accuracy in both news articles and editorials, an example widely imitated until the present time.

Now, if the newspapers today have a hard time surviving because of the decline of readership and advertising revenues, it would not be surprising if they turned to partisan patrons. There is even talk of stimulus money for newspapers (in Connecticut and Illinois), which is possible (though undesirable and indefensible), but so far it is not happening. Turning to wealthy patrons would strike many as odious, inasmuch as the myth prevails that partisanship (or at least open adherence to a party) is incompatible with good journalism. Of course, it would be odious because of the identity of the particular patron (say, George Soros?), not because of patronage per se. It is also widely believed that money in politics is somehow a bad thing, even though the costs of campaigns are not cheap. At the same time, newspapers are exempt from the laws regulating campaign financing, reinforcing the myth of journalistic objectivity.

Of course, anything can be corrupted, but as long as every party is free (in a moral, as well as a legal sense) to support newspapers, and for newspapers to accept that support, there is no reason why this should not happen. But there is a major difficulty, caused by the general belief that politics as such is a questionable thing (the contribution of Progressivism), to be endured only because it cannot be stopped but not because it has any intrinsic worth (administration of the service state over party politics). I would not be surprised to see the overt newspaper-party link, if it took place, to resemble the bitter partisanship of the early party press, rather than the restrained partisanship of Henry J. Raymond. After all, if partisanship, as many believe, means to be governed only by one's ambition or interest, the case for accuracy and fairness is not compelling.

In other words, if something like the fact-value distinction (facts can be substantiated but values cannot) accompanies any shift to an openly partisan press, the obligation for accuracy may well be sacrificed to partisan advantage because of the belief that "values" need not be supported by fact and, perhaps more important, devotion to factual accuracy will be dismissed as just another value, not grounded in reality, which is "a blooming, buzzing confusion," as Walter Lippmann, the "Dean" of American journalism for many years, once put it. One man's fact is another man's scourge. (Not thy will, but mine be done.) There is an old rabbinical saying, viz., "What went wrong this time?" which reminds us that we are as apt to screw things up as we are to improve things.

"Objective" journalism has been a disguise for partisanship from its beginnings, but that doesn't necessarily discredit it. Partisans can be accurate and public spirited, and so-called independents can be inaccurate and mean spirited. Republicans (e.g., the old New York Times) used to dominate the press, although they had plenty of Democrat competition. The old sensationalist press was more often Democrat (e.g., Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst) than Republican, and the 20th century version of "responsible" journalism almost invariably favored liberal causes (e.g., the New York Times when the Sulzbergers took it over, but also the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Kansas City Star, and the Denver Post). More conservative were the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, the St. Louis Globe Democrat, the Oakland Tribune, the San Diego Union and the Dallas Morning News.

Lippmann founded a new standard of objectivity that stressed cosmopolitanism in foreign affairs and non-partisanship in domestic affairs. The "ideal" for the journalist was not the statesman or public-spirited citizen but rather scientists and historians who ostensibly are neutral observers with no stake in political action. This has culminated in the presumption of moral equivalence between America and her enemies in news reporting and commentary, a point of view which seems to have taken up residence in the Obama White House.

As this summary indicates, the rise of liberal partisanship is not a recent development. The critics of the liberal press were vocal in the 1960s (e.g., Goldwater campaign), and even in the 1940s (e.g., Hiss case) and the 1950s (e.g., John Foster Dulles' "brinkmanship"). However, one's own partisanship is harder to acknowledge than the partisanship of those who disagree with you. In any case, the press is always partisan, the only question being what kind of partisanship and for what ends.

Our language controls our political thought

"Modern English . . . is full of bad habits which spread by imitation . . . If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration."–George Orwell, 1946 Had George Orwell, author of those dystopian classics 1984 and Animal Farm, lived long enough to notice the gradual academic takeover of the English language I do not doubt that he would be highly critical. The questionable academic terms now used by practically everyone, whatever their politics, are Culture, Values and Ideology. These terms not only mischaracterize those basic American principles and institutions which are most near and dear to us but actually undermine them.

Let us begin with culture. Today this term, the contribution of 19th century German philosophy, is used as a synonym for society (or any group of people), which makes little sense. Originally culture meant deliberate cultivation of plants, as in agriculture. But if agriculture were understood in the same way as, say, gang culture, then agriculture could be the growing of weeds with perhaps a few whiskey bottles strewn about. Political philosopher Leo Strauss had this insight many years ago.

Not long ago culture referred to the realm of good taste, especially the fine arts. A cultured person could appreciate the best products of human art--e.g., music, painting, sculpture, plays, operas-- whereas an uncultured person did not. Of course, this is inconsistent with the popular idea that all tastes are equally legitimate, one man’s art somehow being another man’s vulgarity. This cheapens what is truly excellent.

This leads us to values. The term cannot be understood without reference to its supposed opposite, namely facts. The German social scientist, Max Weber, taught what he called the "fact-value distinction," which holds that facts are irreducible realities, while values are merely subjective tastes.

Only a boorish person would insist that what he likes is what everyone else should like, but value is a very broad term that includes not only taste but moral and political principles. We may prefer republican forms of government over despotic ones, but other peoples may feel otherwise. "Who are we," it is so often said, "to impose our values on others?"

If this is so, then not only do we not have a right to impose our political system on others; our preference for rule by the people is intrinsically no better than any other. Thus, it is unsurprising that many Americans' attachment to our Constitution is now lukewarm at best.

Finally, we come to ideology. This too is a contribution of German thought, particularly Karl Marx, who understood ideology as the rationalization of the ruling class for its dominance. He is famous for describing politics as nothing more than the organized oppression of one class by another. The real force in human life, he argued, was control of the means of production. With the Communist revolution, supposedly no one would control production and the state could be reduced to mere administration with no more politics.

What a cruel joke that turned out to be! The fact that Marx was wrong in his analysis did not stop his followers from imposing tyrannical regimes in Russia, China and elsewhere which never led to a "withering away of the state." Nor did it stop a lot of non-Communists from adopting his understanding of ideology for their own purposes.

Whenever someone influenced by the alleged insights of Marxism seeks to discredit an opposing viewpoint, he will call it an ideology. The object may be similar to Marx’s, viz., that the opposing view rationalizes a class interest, or that the viewpoint is unrealistic or at variance with the facts.

Ideology is surely not with difficulties, but it is often applied unfairly to political philosophies which are not only not rationalizations, unrealistic or at variance with the facts, but which are grounded in human nature. The best known to us is found in the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men by the consent of the governed . . . "

The terms, Culture, Values and Ideology, are inconsistent with and subversive of free republican government. Free society is not any old culture but one which is in accordance with human nature. Liberty is not merely a value but the right of every human being. And the political philosophy of the Declaration is not an ideology but based on "the laws of nature and of nature’s God."

If we would perpetuate our precious heritage, we need to watch our language. Academic weasel words won’t cut it.

No "national dialogue" on abortion

Both William Clinton and Barack Obama have called for a national dialogue on race. Because this issue divided the country before and after independence, entailing slavery and then segregation; and because it continues to divide the country with the current reverse discrimination, the call struck few people as unreasonable. Unfortunately, those making the call are less interested in dialogue than they are in stigmatizing anyone who disagrees with them as bigots and racists. President Obama has acknowledged that the issue of abortion also divides the country and has made similar dialogue gestures. But, given his thoroughly pro-abortion position, it is unlikely that any national dialogue that he supported on that issue would be any more productive than one on race.

My own experience confirms this. Abortion generates more outrage whenever I write a column about it than any other except homosexuality/gay marriage. Last week’s column drew five responses off site (three opposed, two supporting). In spite of my pessimism about a national dialogue led by a Democratic administration, I favor a dialogue on abortion.

Surely no such dialogue would serve any purpose if it were merely an academic exercise. No political debate occurs in a vacuum: while people are talking, babies are being killed. Pro-lifers favor a debate because they want abortion on demand to end. Pro-aborts oppose it because it they want no restrictions on abortion. It’s that simple.

I am grateful to those who commented on last week’s column, even if they find my arguments wanting. A person who emailed me from Kansas, the state in which the recently murdered George Tillman performed late-term abortions, said that I "glorified" women who refused to abort their babies, even in the face of dangers to themselves or their babies. This error is explained by the fact that I hold abortion to be "wrong period."

Regular readers here know that I do not oppose abortion "period" but give principled reasons based on the political philosophy of the Declaration of Independence. Few critics of abortion are blind to the fact that there are hard cases, such as rape and incest (which make up a tiny percentage of them). But as Oliver Wendell Homes famously said, "Hard cases make bad law." In order to accommodate those rare cases, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the exception to swallow the rule. Abortion on demand is the law.

More to the point, children being diagnosed in their mother’s wombs as defective are not being given the benefit of any doubt. Whereas the doctors’ Hippocratic Oath enjoins doctors to err on the side of life, the abortion "ethic" mandates just the opposite. Is this not appalling?

One opposing reader makes the point that abortions are very hard for women and that none would consent to a late-term abortion unless the need was compelling. But that is hard to square with the massive number of abortions performed since 1973 (45 million and counting), not to mention the attraction of Dr. Tillman for those "rare" cases.

Most doctors want nothing to do with abortion, and most abortionists don’t perform them late term. Is this reluctance explained by some mild anxiety, or is it genuine moral revulsion at crossing what used to be regarded as a very bright line, whether early or late in pregnancy?

Another critic reminds me abortion has been the law for 36 years and urges me to "get over" my opposition to it. Thirty six years is a long time from one point of view, but for those who waited 100 years for racial segregation to end it is not so long, and for those who waited much longer for slavery to end, it is a trifle. Prolifers have patience.

The bedrock pro-abortion position is that every woman has a right to control her own body. Yet the baby growing inside her is not her body but someone else’s. Slave holders argued over a century ago that every black they held by force was their "property," and demanded protection for it. Is there any difference in principle between these positions? I await a response.

And the similarities do not end there. Slave masters denounced opponents of slavery as insurrectionists, just as proaborts routinely call their critics "terrorists." Both became "tired" of criticism and favored ending it. Nothing would satisfy slaveholders then, or proaborts today, until everyone calls them right.

Let the dialogue continue.

Family ties through music

Recently I attended a wedding of a friend at church, followed by the customary reception. After a delightful meal, some charming innovations to commemorate the occasion and the cutting of the cake, there followed hours of dancing, slow and fast, as also is customary. What struck me in this quite ordinary and conventional setting was how a kind of folk music has returned to our society that had been practically banished long ago by the popularity of ballroom dancing with the waltz, foxtrot and two-step and the decline of what was called folk dancing, not to mention square dancing. The latter are by no means dead but it would be inaccurate to say that their appeal had not been eclipsed by the dancing of couples as distinguished from larger groupings. As a children, many of us developed a decided prejudice against folk dancing as quite beyond the pale, for squares and old fogies. But those who have attended ethnic weddings, as we tend to call them, particularly Jewish and Greek (or just seen movies), experience, if only vicariously, group dancing on as big a scale as the number of people in attendance will encourage. Young and old, "cool" and "uncool," will join hands and dance with abandon with no reservations about being out of place, or worse, mixing adult dancing with kid dancing. I still recall a comment made by a friend who suggested that we not object to loud, raucous music played by young people because it is "their" music. That divide always has bothered me.

However, partly because I am widowed and partly because I like the exercise, I have taken to the floor and "danced' for hours to whatever music was being played, occasionally but not often well, and enjoying it. (I just learned how to line dance too.) At the wedding last week I danced with my 30-something daughter and two teenagers from her church youth group and realized that it might just as well be a Jewish or Greek wedding, because adults were dancing with children and bonding by means of music. Indeed, the bride was holding a small child and dancing around the room, quite common these days. I realized that some of the music was the sort that I have long disdained, especially "rap," but because the occasion called for a sort of communal expression, I danced to whatever was playing.

I used to criticize the rather unstructured form of dancing that has become so popular, on the grounds that there were no partners per se. But that presupposed that the only legitimate form of dancing was the kind I grew up with. (Granted, growing up in the 1950s, as I did, meant learning to dance to rock 'n roll, etc.) As a parent I tried to impress upon my children the virtues of slow dancing, and that lesson has been learned well enough. But now I'm just having fun and glad that the generation gap can be bridged at least under the circumstances which originally threatened to foreclose that possibility. If it is natural for families and friends to bond, then nature has found a novel way to reassert itself. That's a gain.