Saturday, November 25, 2006
Haha Brad in skirts.
Just one of many:
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Ocean's 11, Ocean's 12
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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
How odd! Here, in the early years of the 21st Century, a massive public debate proceeds about marriage. On November 7, the citizens of Wisconsin—like the voters in half a dozen other states—will vote on a Marriage Protection Amendment. Shall your constitution affirm “that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?” That’s a mouthful, to be sure. And for many it raises the questions: Why now? Why is this an issue in 2006?
These questions are amplified by signs suggesting that conventional marriage is—in fact—in decline. Just two weeks ago, the American media fixated on a new Census Bureau report showing that “married couple households” had, for the first time in our history, fallen below 50 percent of all households. Choosing a related number, the U.S. marriage rate has fallen by 50 percent since 1960. The proportion of American women ages 25-29 who have never married, about eight percent in 1960, reached 40 percent in 2002, a five-fold increase. Cohabitation and living alone are the growing lifestyles.
Indeed, we seem to be caught in a civilization wide shift. Recently, two European legal scholars—looking at both Europe and America—concluded that legal structures dealing with marriage that had been “fairly stable over several centuries have quite suddenly crumbled.” Where “marriage used to be for life,” an exit through divorce has now become easy and unilateral. The legal role of marriage in conferring legitimacy on children has also been swept away. Informal partnerships have gained a rough legal equality with traditional marriage. “[E]ven one of the last remnants of traditional family law, the requirement that spouses and parents be of different gender, has come under siege,” with some nations—and states—now extending “marriage-like rights to same gender couples.” As the authors conclude: “The principles that uncontestedly dominated family law for hundreds of years have been turned topsy-turvy.”
The foes of Wisconsin’s Marriage Protection Amendment would probably agree with this analysis. The times are changing, they might say. New lifestyles are emerging. Marriage itself is changing. Smart people go with the flow.
How should we respond? It is often true, for example, that those who “go with the flow” crash on the rocks downstream. However, I don’t want to go with that metaphor. Rather, I believe we should welcome the challenge posed by advocates for “same-sex marriage.” All Americans—here in Wisconsin, in my home state of Illinois, and in the other 48 states as well—all Americans had grown complacent and pleasantly confused over the last 40 years about the meaning of marriage. With little thought or debate, we had let this vital cultural and legal institution decay. The “same-sex marriage” debate woke us up; it has clarified the issues at stake; and it raises the vital question: Just what is marriage for? I have five answers:
First and foremost, marriage is about the procreation and rearing of children. Our era—the early 21st Century—is not the first time that marriage has been challenged in Western history. Over 200 years ago, for example, the Jacobins of the French Revolution also sought to tear down traditional marriage. They argued, just like social revolutionaries now, for a “freedom to marry” tied to easy divorce.
A great champion of marriage rose in response: Louis de Bonald. He began by clarifying “that marriage,…at bottom, has always been a civil, religious, and physical act at once.” Marriage drew the attention of public authorities because it was “the founding act of domestic society, whose interests should be guaranteed by civil authority.” However, this new domestic society did not rest on the needs or desires of spouses. As Bonald wrote: “the end of marriage is…not the happiness of the spouses, if by happiness one understands an idyllic pleasure of the heart and senses.” Rather:
[T]he end of marriage is the reproductive and, above all, the conservation of man, since this conservation cannot, in general, take place outside of marriage, or without marriage.
By “conservation,” Bonald meant the care, nurturing, education, and protection of children, which he believed could occur only in the married-couple home.
Again, Bonald insisted that if pleasure or happiness was the goal of marriage, then government had no business being involved. Instead:
[P]olitical power only intervenes in the spouses’ contract of union because it represents the unborn child, which is the sole object of marriage, and because it accepts the commitment made by the spouses in its presence and under its guarantee to bring that child into being.
Put another way, a marriage “is truly a contract between three persons, two of whom are present, one of whom (the [potential] child) is absent, but is represented by public power, guarantor of the commitment made by the two spouses to form a society.”
Bonald also explained why the marriage of a man and a woman who proved infertile, who were unable to create a child, remained valid. Many of the French Revolution’s leaders worried about the size of the French population, for they wanted more children to serve as soldiers in future wars. And so, they called for easy divorce in cases of failed fertility so that new pairings of men and women might be tried to produce the needed children. Bonald replied:
[W]hatever importance may be attached to population by these great depopulators of the universe; they would doubtless not dare to maintain that in human marriages one should, as on stud farms, proceed by trial.
Simply put, the government should not be in the business of fertility testing. Rather, it should accept the potential fertility of all male-female bonds and acknowledge the powerful positive effects on the wellbeing of children of growing up with their two natural parents.
On the same point, and much closer to our time, Valparaiso University Law Professor Richard Stith asks a pointed question: Why do truly democratic governments leave most forms of friendship free and unregulated, while continuing to register and legally burden heterosexual unions? Stith replies:
Everyone knows the answer: Sexual relations between women and men may generate children, beings at once highly vulnerable and essential for the future of every community….Lasting marriage receives public [recognition and support]… because it helps to produce human beings able to practice ordered liberty.
In short, the state registers and regulates heterosexual unions for the sake of the children, real or potential. All other forms of friendship are left unregistered and unregulated, for the sake of liberty.
The second purpose of marriage is to renew concentric rings of community: extended family or kin; neighborhoods; and faith communities. Marriage is not just about the love affair of two individuals. Through a wedding, two extended families merge in a manner that perpetuates and invigorates both, extending the great chain of being, binding the living to their ancestors and to their posterity. Still in our day, family members will travel great distances to attend the wedding of a nephew, a niece, or a cousin, acknowledging the importance of the event to their own identity and continuity. As the great pro-family President Theodore Roosevelt once wrote, a people existed only as its…
sons and daughters think of life not as something concerned only with the selfish evanescence of the individual, but as a link in the great chain of creation and causation [forged by] the vital duties and the high happiness of family life.
Poets also remind us that marriage is more than a bond between two people. I think particularly of the Kentuckian Wendell Berry, who underscores that marriage exists to bind the couple as “parents to children, families to the community, the community to nature.” The new bride and groom “say their vows to the community as much as to one another, and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and on its own.” The very health and future of the community in question depends on the successful endurance of these vows. As Berry explains, they bind the lovers to each other, “to forebears, to descendants,… to Heaven and earth.” Marriage is “the fundamental connection without which nothing holds.” Even the touch of one married lover to another:
Berry insists that sexual love, mediated through marriage, “is the heart of community life,” the force connecting persons to the Creation and to the earth’s abundance and fertility. Using a favorite metaphor, Berry says that marriage “brings us into the dance that holds the community together and joins it to its place.” As he writes in another poem:
Come into the dance of the community, joined
in a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal love of women and men for one another
The third purpose of marriage is to bind together the sexual and the economic, which is the bond that creates a home. I underscore that these are scientific statements, not personal opinion. As the anthropologist Edward Westermarck explained over 100 years ago: “Among the…[primitive], as well as the most civilized races of men, we find the family consisting of parents and children, with the father as its protector.” Holding this universal family system together was marriage, which combined “a regulated sexual relation” with “economic obligations.” In Westermarck’s view, distinct maternal, paternal, and marital instincts all existed, each rooted in human nature. In his great anthropological survey of 1949, George Murdoch discovered that “the nuclear family is the universal human social grouping.” Moreover, he said, “[a]ll known human societies have developed specialization and cooperation between the sexes roughly along this biologically determined line of cleavage.” Murdoch concluded:
[M]arriage exists only when the economic and the sexual are united into one relationship, and this combination only occurs in marriage. Marriage, thus defined, is found in every known human society.
Such statements about human nature and marriage should come as no surprise to Christians, Jews, or Muslims. All three faiths accept Genesis, Chapters 1 and 2, where marriage is cast as a never-changing aspect of God’s creation, fixed from the beginning.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”… Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.
Here we see marriage affirmed as both heterosexual (“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”) and economic (the passages regarding “subdue” and “have dominion”). In its discussion of marriage, it might even be said that Genesis agrees with the anthropologists Westermarck and Murdock.
Indeed, more recent research by paleo-anthropologists—scientists who study the social life of pre-historic humans—further affirms that what we call traditional marriage lies at the foundation of human nature. Notably, C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University shows in an article for Science magazine that “being human” means “being married.” On the basis of extensive field research, he finds “the unique sexual and reproductive behavior of man”—not growth of the brain—to be the key to human origin. The human “nuclear family” is not a modern development. Rather, the scientific evidence shows that the pairing-off of male and female human ancestors into something very like traditional marriage reaches back over three million years, to the time when our purported ancestors left the trees on the African savannah and started walking on two legs. As Lovejoy concludes:
[B]oth advances in material culture and the Pleistocene acceleration in brain development [follow after] an already established hominid character system, which included intensified parenting and social relationships, monogamous pair bonding, specialized sexual-reproductive behavior, and bi-pedality. [This model] implies that the nuclear family and human sexual behavior may have their ultimate origin long before the dawn of the Pleistocene [era, two million years ago].
It would be going too far to say that modern science and the Book of Genesis have fully converged. Significant disputes remain over key issues such as timing. However, it would be fair to say that modern science agrees with Genesis that humankind—from our very origin as unique creatures on earth—has been defined by heterosexual monogamy involving long-term pair bonding and resting on the special bond of the sexual and the economic: all big words, simply meaning marriage. Put in contemporary political terms, those who defend traditional marriage today have both religion and science on their side.
The fourth purpose of marriage is Standing for Liberty. Said another way, marriage is political. This is true in a narrow sense, such as the finding reported in Business Week that women are more likely to vote Democratic after a divorce and more likely to vote Republican after a marriage.
I am more interested in marriage as “political” in the broad sense. It is no coincidence that the architects of every major political tyranny—from the Jacobins of the French Revolution to the Bolsheviks of the Russian Revolution to the Nazis of Germany’s would-be Racial Revolution to the Maoists of the Chinese Revolution—all targeted marriage for destruction. All tyrants recognize that the family based in marriage is their most vigorous foe, the primary obstacle to their quest for total power.
The great English journalist G.K. Chesterton has said it well. He identifies the family to be a “triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child,” an “ancient” institution that pre-exists the state, one that “cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.” Chesterton writes that this “small state founded on the sexes is at once the most voluntary and the most natural of all self-governing states.” He underscores how all modern governments—not just the open tyrannies—seek to separate or isolate individuals from their families, the better to govern them; to divide in order to weaken. Yet the family is self-renewing, an expression of human nature which builds on the bond of marriage. As Chesterton concludes:
The ideal for which [marriage] stands in the state is liberty. It stands for liberty for the very simple reason…[that] it is the only…institution that is at once necessary and voluntary. It is the only check on that state that is bound to renew itself as eternally as the state, and more naturally than the state….This is the only way in which truth can ever find refuge from public persecution and the good man survive the bad government.
The famous French visitor to America in the 1830’s, Alexis de Tocqueville, emphasized how America’s unique balance between liberty and order depended on marriage, rightly understood:
There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in America, or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated….While the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs.
As the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in its 1888 decision in the case Maynard v. Hill, marriage is “something more than a mere contract”; it is “an institution, in the maintenance of which in its purity the public is deeply interested, for it is the foundation of the family and of society.”
Alas, our state and Federal court systems have—in recent decades—been far less reliable in the defense of marriage as a vital American institution. This is why marriage amendments have become necessary at both the state and local level. However, America’s culture of marriage survives today in another, much more-unexpected place: Hollywood. What do the following popular films have in common: My Big Fat Greek Wedding; Maid in Manhattan; Sweet Home Alabama; Kate and Leopold; Notting Hill; Runaway Bride; You’ve Got Mail; Pretty Woman; Sleepless in Seattle; The Prince and Me; and The Lake House? My daughters call them “chick flicks.” A better label might be “marriage flicks,” for all of them cast marriage as the great, satisfying, and truly fulfilling event in a woman’s life…and in a man’s, as well. None of these films, let alone the whole genre, could have been made in cynical, libertine, post-marriage Western Europe. The Europeans do not believe in Cinderella or in the promise of marriage anymore; Americans still do. These films are distinctly our own; signs of a still vital cultural yearning for marriage and home.
Allow me to summarize. The purposes of civil marriage are:
• To promote the procreation and optimal nurture of children;
• To renew the concentric rings of community: extended families; neighborhoods; and faith communities;
• To bind together the sexual and the economic, in order to create stable homes;
• To oppose tyranny and to stand for liberty;
• And to shape and renew the nation, and specifically these United States.
The Marriage Protection Amendment, on which you will soon vote, protects and advances all of these goals simultaneously. This is not, I underscore, just another political issue, where the outcome matters little. Rejecting political distortions, you stand here in defense of truth, both religious and scientific. Moreover, the protection of children, the future of communities, the stability of homes, the defense of liberty, and the long term health of this great state and nation are all at stake in this debate.
The Family Research Institute of Wisconsin understands this larger picture. It has shown wisdom and courage in advancing this Amendment. FRI has faced the occasional slanders and slurs of the Amendment’s foes with dignity, responding not in kind but with the truth, openly told. Criticisms of the Amendment range from the misleading to the irrelevant to the absurd (my favorite example of the latter is the bogus charge that this Amendment would prevent some people from hunting deer on family-owned land). FRI has patiently replied, always pointing to the real issue, above all the need to do the very best we can for children. Please give this fine organization your every support.
 Louis de Bonald, On Divorce , trans. and ed. by Nicholas Davidson (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992): 36-37, 63-64, 175.
 Richard Stith, “Keep Friendship Unregulated,” The Cresset (Easter 2003): 47-49.
 Theodore Roosevelt, The Works of Theodore Roosevelt: Memorial Edition, Vol. XXI (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1924): 263.
 Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (New York and San Francisco: Pantheon Books, 1992, 1993): 120-21, 133, 139.
 Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1998): 99.
 Wendell Berry, Entries: Poems (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1997): 40.
 Edward Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage: 5th Edition (London: Macmillan, 1925): 26-37, 69-72.
 George Peter Murdock, Social Structure (New York: The Free Press, 1965 : 1-8.
 Genesis 1:27-28; 2:24 (Revised Standard Version).
 C. Owen Lovejoy, “The Origin of Man,” Science 211 (Jan. 23, 1981): 348.
 G.K. Chesterton , Collected Works: Vol. IV: Family, Society, Politics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987): 256.
 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Book Three, Chapter XI.
The family and the market
American conservatives have worked politically in recent decades to advance two sets of goods: the family and the market. They have advocated traditional values that sustain cultural vitality, and economic freedom that brings material prosperity. These two sets of ideals are mutually reinforcing to an extent. The market relies on a stable and orderly society made possible by sturdy families and strong social institutions; and freedom from unduly coercive authority is an essential prerequisite for making moral choices.
There are undoubtedly some who are true believers in both. But perhaps there are many more who are willing to pay lip service to the defense of family while selling themselves out to the oligarchs.
The parenting class
What may be an ideological problem for conservatives is also, for Americans in general, a very practical problem. The greatest threat to the interests of families and free markets today is in fact the tension between them. This tension is not just an abstract theoretical challenge, but also a force in the everyday lives of American families, most especially as a source of anxiety.
Today? Should we not say that this problem actually has been around much longer than that? The erosion of the family has been gradual, over the past century--it's only become visibly manifest to people in the last several decades.
In the end, I think the author is either trying to flatter the powers-that-be or is rather ignorant of the depths of the problems plauing American society and the Republican Party. I say Republican Party and not the "conservative" movement, because I think there are conservatives out there who have always recognized the problems within the Republican Party for what they are, and others who maintained an uneasy alliance with the "neo-liberals" for the sake of defending traditional morality. Mr. Levin needs to talk to Allan Carlson.
Assertive Women Land Better Men
Office worker Yoon A-ra (28) recently received a wedding invitation from a friend that gave her pause. "I really can’t understand it. Those of my college friends who were really pretty and nice got married to such bad guys and are having such a hard time in their marriage. But those who were neither have gotten married to such nice husbands who treat them just like princesses.”
Why, oh why the unfair distribution? The U.S. columnist Sherry Argov recently published a book titled “Why Men Love Bitches: From Doormat to Dreamgirl” claiming that 90 percent of the men surveyed are more attracted to women who stand up for themselves and don't chase after a man than to women who are nice and sacrifice themselves. In fact, men don’t want to date a girl who is too tough and abrasive, but they don't feel like dating a yes-woman without any special charms other than pretty looks either. The Chosun Ilbo asked attractive women about their relationships.
Ha Ji-won as the famous Chosun-era gisaeng in the popular drama “Hwang Jin-I.”
If you give him too much, he will lose interest
When people have called a woman a “fox,” it often had negative connotations: is underhand, flirts with men and enjoys breaking men's heart without thinking about the consequences. Not any more. Women need to be a smart as a fox: clever and know it, and take full advantage of it. They are good talkers with a wide range of knowledge and remarkable abilities and use these strong points to appeal to the men they love.
Women who won’t be tamed
The famous gisaeng or Chosun-era entertainment girl Hwang Jin-I could be a role model for today's women. Perfect as an entertainer, she was confident enough to suggest to a senior government official that she, not he, pay for a night with him. Women's studies scholar Jeong Hee-jin says, "These days, men like women who stimulate them intellectually with new ideas and views of reality rather than those who are similar to them in tendency and opinion.”
Tough is better than innocent
Women who cook for their man when he is ill and wait for him for hours when he doesn’t show up don't get the love they desire, not even in soap operas. A pretty face alone cannot guarantee your success in a relationship, even less so if you routinely sacrifice yourself. Think about why Anna Jo in the popular MBC sitcom “Couple of Fantasy” is favored by so many viewers: she speaks English fluently and plays the piano very well and tries desperately even to match cheap clothes as best she can after she lost her memory and can’t remember that she is mega rich.
Do whatever it takes
The time has gone when a little anti-aging care was all you needed to look young and beautiful. Now women are encouraged to pour every bit of their energy into taking care of their body -- and mind: maintain skin like a baby’s, keep a figure like a 20-something, and strengthen your mind. That is the trend.
Impossible to conquer
According to Argov, women want stability and predictability while men like excitement, risk and unpredictable situations. Men get bored with clingy women who say, “How could you do this to me despite everything I’ve done for you?” That just makes a man want to run away. But knowing the psychology of their men, bitches can control men like puppets. They are straightforward, don’t hesitate to say what they want, and ignore men when they have to. They never wait by the phone.
A princess becomes a parlor maid the moment she depends on him for money. That is why bitches are never remiss in saving money. They not only read all the books on how to invest money wisely, but also know how to manage an investment portfolio to make a profit.
Claim your rights
Kim So-ra, a writer, says women should speak up and not allow themselves to be unfairly treated just because of their gender -- some service workers are rude to women; some men pretend they are seriously injured when they are involved in an accident caused by women drivers, and so forth. “Women should try to make the most of consumer protection centers or Internet boards of government agencies,” she advises.(email@example.com )
Some of it may be valid, but a lot of it is nothing more than "wordly wisdom"... a mix of good feminism with bad feminism.
Address by Archbishop John OnaiyekanENUGU, Nigeria, NOV. 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here are excerpts from a speech that Abuja Archbishop John Onaiyekan gave at a Nov. 2-3 gathering of the Catholic bishops' conference of Nigeria. The theme of the gathering was "Making Oil and Gas Wealth Serve the Common Good."
* * *
By John Onaiyekan
Archbishop of Abuja
The oil and gas phenomenon anywhere in the world today is a highly technical and specialized issue. … On a few occasions, I have looked at the reports issued by government on the movement of incomes in the oil sector. They are written in such technical language that the more you look, the less you see; the closer you read, the less you understand.
Since the crude oil is underground in deposit, how do we know how much is taken out and how much is left? I imagine we have to rely heavily on the experts, most of whom are also our partners in business. This is probably why the oil sector is so liable to manipulation and dishonest practices. I leave others to go into these technical details. Thanks be to God among the speakers during this workshop, there are indeed experts in the field.
I hope that they will present their contributions in a language that we shall all be able to understand. I look forward indeed to being enlightened by them. On my own part, however, I believe that whether we understand the intricacies of the oil business or not, we should be able to address some ethical issues that surround the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, seen in terms of a gift of God to our nation. It is in this perspective therefore that I make my brief contribution.
The wealth of the nation
I wish to start with the observation, which for me is a strong conviction, that the most important wealth of any nation is its people. Persons are the most valuable resources of any nation. In the case of Nigeria, we are blessed with huge population of over 130 million men, women and children. …
Apart from sheer numbers, we have also proven that Nigerians are resourceful, highly motivated and can show themselves as brilliant as any group of people can be. This is our greatest wealth.
Our nation will never be truly great until the people are well managed and motivated to perform at their optimal standard. In a nation where many young graduates roam the streets unemployed for years or are underemployed, selling phone cards and newspapers, there is something seriously wrong.
Every able-bodied hand that lies idle is a loss on the nation. Every well-trained brain that is left to lie fallow is a major dent on the productive capacity of our country. In many countries, the rate of employment is a major concern of public authorities. People win or lose elections on the basis of how many of their countrymen are in productive employment.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, this has not been the case. Government and governance has been practically reduced to merely manipulating oil wealth. It seems nobody really cares whether Nigerians have jobs or not. So we spend all our resources buying from all over the world, goods that other people have produced, while our factories are left to rot.
Worse still, as some recent clamorous events have shown, many of our leaders steal the monies of the people and use it to buy up useless property abroad, or stash it in foreign banks. We should note that these funds are not just sitting in the vaults of the foreign banks. Rather, they are being used to oil the industries of those countries, thereby giving jobs to their own people while Nigerians have no capital available to carry out small- and middle-scale industries.
It is not surprising that the authorities in these countries look for every excuse not to release to us the loot that they are holding. I believe that the nation needs a complete change of attitude in this regard and we pray that our leaders will understand this.
The example of some countries clearly illustrates the truth that people are the wealth of a nation. Some of the nations that are now in the frontline of the world economy have little or no natural resources. Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are examples. They have no crude oil, hardly any minerals, and little or no land even to farm on. All they have are people who are educated and prepared to work and who are put in the position to work and to produce. The result is a wealthy and an affluent nation.
I read recently that Dubai, the gem of the Gulf States, derives only 10% of its fabulous wealth from oil. The rest comes from the good human management skills of their rulers and the keen business acumen of its citizens.
There can be no substitute for proper deployment of human resources. Lack of natural resources can be remedied, if the people are resourceful. But no matter how rich a country is in natural resources, if the people are not well managed, little will happen.
Our country is a good example. In a recent article, the British Economist magazine (Oct. 21-27, 2006, page 50) talks of oil wealth as the "curse of black gold," and makes this telling statement about our country: "Despite billions of petrodollars flowing in since the 1970s, Nigerians are considerably worse off today than they were in 1980. About 71% of them live on less than $1 a day, infant mortality is high and the country is unlikely to achieve any of the UN's millennium development goals by 2015."
This somber picture seems to me closer to the realities under which the average Nigerian lives today than the glowing picture of a "vibrant economy," which our official sources continue to paint and project at home and abroad.
We might also cite many other countries of Africa that are rich in natural resources but wallowing in poverty: for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and to some extent also Gabon. Indeed the proper management of the people is the major responsibility of public authorities. If they do their duty in this regard, the people themselves will manage their economic affairs and manage them well. When shall we ever learn?
It is only after we have properly appreciated the importance of our human resources that we can then begin to look at our natural resources, including oil and gas. But we must look beyond oil and gas.
We take so much for granted and yet there are a lot of other great gifts of God to our nation. On three levels: on the ground, above and below, the nation is rich. Above ground, God has blessed us with wonderful environment and climate. Generally mild, with no extremes of cold and heat, we can nurture life for both animals and plants.
When we look at our soil, we have vast arable land, fertile soil that can produce a wide variety of crops and plants, trees and forest. We recall that in the colonial days, our nation produced a lot of wealth from the cultivation of cash crops, most of which have in the meantime been totally neglected. Even food production, which ought to be a major concern of every nation, has suffered the same serious neglect. An example is rice. One of the many unenviable records assigned to our nation is that we are the greatest rice market in the world. While we go all over the world buying up surplus rice produced by others abroad, our local rice production is stifled almost out of existence.
Finally there is the subsoil, the minerals under the ground. The discovery of oil has unfortunately led to the neglect of other mineral resources in our country. Despite the effort of the Ministry for Solid Minerals, it is still mainly oil that is our concern.
We have neglected other mineral resources like our traditional coal and tin, which even our colonial masters did a lot to develop and exploit. Our nation will do well to diversify our sources of mineral wealth by paying greater attention to the different kinds of mineral resources with which our nation has been blessed.
Oil and gas resources
This is the major wealth generating natural resources that we have put practically all our attention on. We are lucky that as things stand, it is still a good money generating resource. But we need to put the oil issue in its proper perspective. We have to remember that oil is nonrenewable. Whatever is taken away now, will not be available for the generations that will follow us.
We therefore have a responsibility to future generations in the way we exploit and extract the oil resources. The least we can do is to use our present oil incomes to put in place structures, services and amenities which will be of lasting value for present and future generations. Obvious areas of concern would include education, health services, housing, transport and communications network. The present dubious drive for privatization is hardly a step in such a direction.
We should also not forget that the demand for oil, even if it is not exhausted, will not be forever. We know for sure that those who are now buying our oil are working frantically for alternative sources of energy. They are doing their best to liberate themselves from their dependence on oil. That day will come earlier than we think. It may not hit us during our lifetime but we definitely must think of those who are coming after us.
And this leads to the third observation: exploitation of oil at what price? As we seek to make as much money as we can from oil, we need to pay attention to how this is being done. Much of the crisis in the Niger Delta is a result of a callous and careless exploitation of oil without due regard for the environment today and the consequences for the years to come. It would be grossly unwise to destroy our environment simply because we want a few couple of million more dollars.
Those who design and implement our policies in the oil sector have to look seriously into this. I am not fully informed of the relationship between our government and the oil companies. Whatever this may be, it is surely the duty of government to work on behalf of their people, to ensure that those who come here to extract oil do so at least with the same care and attention that they use when extracting in their own countries.
It is a shame for companies to operate in Nigeria with principles and methods totally different from what they use elsewhere only because our rulers either do not know or do not care. Money is important but not the end of everything.
Responsibility of civil authority
It is the responsibility of civil authority to pursue the common good of all citizens. This is a basic principle that calls for a brief expatiation. By the nature of things, man is a social being. We cannot live as lone individuals. We live in community. That is why we have families and nations and peoples. From a Christian perspective, we believe that this is the plan of God for the humanity that he has created. On the one hand, every individual has his inalienable rights. Made in the image and likeness of God, it is only to God that he must give absolute allegiance. In principle, no one can have absolute power over anyone else.
On the other hand, in the exercise of one's rights, one must also take note of the needs of others and the good of the society at large. Since we cannot trust every one to do this well and consistently, there is need for a civil authority, with power to enforce good order. Enforcement of good order for the common good is the only justification for the authority that those who rule wield. When they use their authority in any other way but for the promotion of the common good, they would be misusing their authority. Consequently, they would no longer morally deserve to be obeyed.
Pope Benedict XVI expressed this in a blunt way by quoting a no less blunt African bishop and Father of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. He describes as "a band of robbers" those rulers who divert public resources to their private uses, neglecting the care of the people entrusted to their care. Thus it is the duty of civil authority to reconcile individual interests with the good of the society at large.
From [the] point of view of resources, this has serious implications. On the one hand, it is a clear principle of our Catholic social doctrine that the goods of this earth are destined for the good of everyone. This is called the "principle of the universal destination of goods." Indeed the Lord God has made available sufficient resources to take good care of everybody on the earth.
At the same time, it is also a basic principle of Catholic social doctrine that individuals have a right to private ownership or private property. Indeed their right to private property sustains the individual rights vis-à-vis the society. Again, it is the duty of government to balance the demands of the respect of private property with the principle of the universal destination of goods.
This is why civil authority has every right to introduce mechanisms for redistributing wealth among citizens, so that those who have surplus are not only encouraged but also even obliged to release what they do not need for others who are in dire need. This is the rationale behind the taxation system in many developed countries, where the rich are taxed heavily to sustain free or at least affordable social services for all.
Thus we come back to what we started with namely: the primacy of the human person. In all that the state does for the common good, the human person must be at the center, the apex and the criteria of development. Policies of government that ride roughshod over human beings are immoral. We should never sacrifice human beings on the altar of policies; no matter how good and carefully worked out they may be thought to be.
Particularly, it is a crime crying to heaven for vengeance for the state to make the poor to pay for the human costs of its misguided policies. This consideration is relevant when talking of making oil and gas wealth serve the common good of our nation.
Oil as common wealth of all Nigerians
In Nigeria, by law, all natural resources underground belong to government. But this is a far-reaching ideological option that our nation has taken. Some say in fact that this has been imposed on us without proper discussion and negotiation. However, it is not the only option possible.
I am told that in America, you are the owner of the oil that is under your garden. In any case, the gold rush and the early oil explorations in the United States were on this basis of private ownership of oil fields and mines. Therefore, the question "who owns the oil" needs to be properly addressed and answered. Having decided that government owns the oil, this puts a heavy burden of responsibility on civil authority that is supposed to act on behalf of the people to ensure that this commodity is properly used for the sake of the people.
The decision that all minerals including oil belong to the state is another way of saying that they all belong to all of us together. It is the duty of government to ensure that this is really so. I am quite convinced that, all things considered, it is the best option. We can imagine what would happen if every village (or indeed villager!) were to take charge of the oil deposits in its farmlands.
It would have been impossible to mobilize the resources necessary to extract even a barrel of crude oil. But having decided that the state shall control this commodity, it is also necessary that this common wealth of all be indeed for the common good of all and everyone. This brings us to the issue of economic and political management of oil resources.
It is a fact that huge sums of money are accruing to the Nigerian state from the sale of oil. The state has a moral responsibility to ensure that this wealth is prudently managed for the common good of all Nigerians. It is no longer a secret that there have been serious lapses in this regard. Recently, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who ought to know these things, confirmed the long-circulating rumors that over the years, considerable portion of our oil revenues has ended up in private pockets. He spoke of "billions of U.S. dollars. There is only one word to describe this: stealing." The nation is still waiting for a government that would have the moral courage and credentials to address this colossal looting.
The demand by host communities for special consideration in the distribution of the oil incomes has strong merits. This is especially because they bear the brunt of the environmental negative implications of oil exploration and exploitation. Justice demands that the damage caused by oil production activities be repaired with the resources of the oil business. This is the justification for disbursing more funds to oil-producing states than to others.
We are all familiar with the clamor for "resource control" by the politicians in the oil-producing states. Their demand is legitimate, provided it also means that there will be proper resource management. It would solve no problem if politicians collected huge checks from Abuja, only to lodge them in private accounts at home and abroad, leaving their people in squalor and misery. In fact, if the federal government had done its duty well by developing oil-producing areas and ensuring that the environment is properly looked after, there would have been less need for a clamor for resource control.
The issue has clearly a political angle. This is not only a matter of economic distribution. It has to do also with honesty of administration, with a sense of justice for all and a concern for the weakest. Unfortunately, the record of our leadership in this regard has been dismal. The national leadership has been guilty of gross neglect. But unfortunately, not seldom, the local leaders too have at times duped their own people rather than serve their pressing needs and genuine interests. The tragedy of Ogoniland, culminating in the Ken Saro Wiwa affair of almost exactly 11 years ago, is only a clamorous instance of a widespread and sad situation.
The oil companies
Before concluding my reflections, a word about the oil companies. You will notice that I have made only indirect and passing references to them so far. This is because I believe that as far as the specific theme of our conference is concerned: "Making Oil and Gas Wealth Serve the Common Good," the primary responsibility lies with us and with our civil authorities.
I presume that since Nigeria nationalized the oil sector of our economy, we have taken control of, and must assume responsibility for whatever happens in that sector. We invite the oil companies -- or welcome them -- to exploit our oil resources for us, obviously for a fee. We have to tell them what to do and lay down the conditions for their operations in our land. We should therefore not blame the oil companies for our irresponsibility. For example, if the host communities are neglected in basic amenities, the fault lies with government who rakes in the income from the oil sales, not with the oil companies who are only doing their work on behalf of our government.
The oil companies are not missionaries, nor are they philanthropic organizations. They are businesspeople here to make money, sometimes at great risk to their very lives. They will try to make as much money as they can, taking advantage of any loopholes in our system if necessary or possible.
But this does not exempt or absolve them from all moral responsibility for the way they conduct their business with us. For example, they should give us a fair deal. They should not steal our crude oil under any pretext. Those of them who buy our crude oil should pay fair prices. But all this will not happen through our pious exhortations and spiritual advice. It will happen only to the extent that our government insists on honest and transparent dealings with our oil business partners.
We should note here that there are also Nigerian companies that have become big players in our oil and gas business. They too have no less moral responsibility than the foreign companies. The fact that they are Nigerians does not give them any right to steal our oil and enrich themselves unjustly.
Often in this area, we begin to swim in very murky waters. The allocation of the famous "oil blocks," instead of being a means of judicious management of our oil sector, has become often a powerful instrument of political patronage or coercion, as government fiat creates and annihilates millionaires overnight! Besides, there are rumors that some of the so-called Nigerian oil companies are merely fronts either for Nigerians in power or for foreign companies or both. To the extent that this is true, it must be denounced as the height of moral corruption, not as political sagacity!
Finally, we note that since the second term of President Obasanjo, he has taken direct and personal responsibility for the oil sector of our economy, with no Minister for Petroleum. We know where the buck stops and where the final responsibility lies.
The oil and gas phenomenon is a paradigm of the Nigerian predicament, characterized by inept management, greed, selfishness and shortsightedness. That is why our natural resources have hardly served us in such a way as to bring wealth and well being to our nation. Many have referred to our oil boom as an oil doom. We have the human resources to ensure that this oil and gas wealth are properly harnessed and deployed to serve the common good. In order that this may happen, there is need for a better political management of our people and especially of those with talents in this regard.
This is why it is important that those who are elected into office be men and women of integrity, ready to really serve. This is why it is necessary to have a proper and honest political environment where rigging of election would no longer be tolerated. It is only then that government can ensure that our experts will protect our interests in the oil industry and defend us against the predatory tendencies of the exploiters of oil industry, most of who are foreigners from the rich nations out to maximize profit.
It is only then too that we can control and restrain the excesses of many who are misusing their talents and positions for stealing our oil resources, employing all sorts of strategies for bunkering and high sea robbery.
Many Nigerians are working for the oil companies. To a large extent they are serving foreign interests, sometimes against the interests of the nation. These "mercenaries" ought to be converted and brought back to work for the good of the nation. In this connection, we should mention that many of our talented people have completely checked out of this nation in search of greener pastures and safer grounds. With a good government that puts in place an enabling environment for honest work, many of them would come back to make sure that our oil and gas wealth serves our common good.
When we shall be able to recover the talents of our people and bring back the exiles from their places of Diaspora, when we shall be able to change the orientation of the nation to welcome talents, then God's design for Nigeria as a great nation will be realized. Then would Nigeria be home for all to live in dignity and in relative well-being.
Indeed Nigeria would become a haven for many from poorer nations to come to look for greener pastures, like our own young men and women are now unfortunately doing in foreign lands. May the Lord God hasten the day when this will happen. Amen.
Catholic Encyclopedia entry.
Orthodoxwiki entry. (Which includes the following icon.)
Saint Catherine of Alexandria; another gallery; St. Katherine of Alexandria Orthodox Church gallery; stcatherines.org
Saint Catherine of Alexandria," by Bernardo Daddi (note the spiked wheel behind her)
Caravaggio. (Info about the painting.)
Jusepe de Ribera
The Dream of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Painting attributed to Onorio Marinari:
Scene from the Life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
The Dispute between Saint Catherine of Alexandria and the Philosophers
Some other paintings can be found here, "The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria," including Barna de Siena:
Information on the Monastery of St. Catherine of Alexandria on Sinai:
TourEgypt (icon gallery) (see also info about the area around the monastery)
Liber Sapientiae, 9: 1-6
Deus patrum meorum et Domine misericordiae,qui fecisti omnia verbo tuo et sapientia tua constituisti hominem,ut dominaretur creaturis, quae a te factae sunt, et disponeret orbem terrarum in sanctitate et iustitiaet in directione cordis iudicium iudicaret, da mihi sedium tuarum assistricem sapientiamet noli me reprobare a pueris tuis, quoniam servus tuus sum ego et filius ancillae tuae,homo infirmus et exigui temporiset minor ad intellectum iudicii et legum. Nam, et si quis erit consummatus inter filios hominum,si ab illo abfuerit sapientia tua, in nihilum computabitur.
St. Catherine, pray for us!
World Gallery of Art
Friday, November 24, 2006
Multiply unnecessary desires, especially the desire to increase the size of the political community. Turn the economy and society over to oligarchs. Destroy all necessary foundations for a reasonable and self-sustaining political order.
Chaos is order. Anarchy is tyranny.
Only when things are really bad will the people embrace a temporal savior who will promise to bring the "good times" back.
Is this really the program of secret societies? Some conspiracy theorists believe that the conspiracists aim at the advantage of a single group, or of a nation or country (or alliance of countries)--exploiting others for the benefit of a particular party. Hence they would not engage in policies that would lead to their own ruin. But what if they do seek ruin, while using others who act in accordance with their interests and unknowingly plant the seeds of their own destruction? Any sort of partiality or nationalism or ethnocentricism must be replaced by an internationalist spirit, but not the internationalism that one expects.
It is not enough to have global dominance by the select few, created and managed through force, (overt and hidden) government activity, and economic interdependence. Even this must eventually be swept away to usher in something even greater... It is easier and "better" to take everything down at once through interdependence than it is to try to take one country down one by one. Besides the latter sort of conquest would not lead to immediate and complete global domination; it would seem to be nothing more than the "normal" flux of human affairs, the decline and destruction of just one state. The sort of planning required for a synchornized collapse requires an intelligence greater than human.
Does it matter how many humans are deliberately and actively working for this? Would not demons be able to manipulate unwitting human instruments to serve their ends? And yet it would seem plausible that there would be a core of men willing to serve them and to usher in the anti-Christ, from which group the anti-Christ would come. Do they dare look into the abyss of their souls? What would they find there looking back?
"For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
How does the federal system of Germany compare with that of the United States?
A Dangerous Addiction
By Dr. Kurt Richebacher
It has become customary in the United States to speak of
"asset-driven" economic growth. "Asset-driven" is, of
course, a euphemism for bubble-driven, because it requires
particularly large rises in asset prices.
Many modern economists consider asset-driven growth a valid
alternative to the traditional growth pattern, nowadays
called "income-driven" economic growth.
Mr. Greenspan gained high regard in the late 1990s for
nourishing the rising stock values that provided such a
massive "wealth effect" and, therefore, such a massive
boost to consumer spending. Plainly, this inspired him to
subsequently nourish the housing bubble. A new, indirect
and apparently more efficient method of stimulating
consumer spending through intermediation of an asset bubble
It seems to have two great advantages. Rising asset prices
can boost "wealth" much more quickly than income growth,
while also providing facilities with high leverage. But if
these are advantages, they cannot be regarded in isolation.
For obvious reasons, the bullish publicity concentrates on
the two best-looking statistical aggregates as the key
measures of economic performance. That is, real GDP and
productivity growth. As a rule, they are in line with what
people actually experience in the incomes they earn and the
prices they pay in the shops. But this time, there is an
unprecedented gross discrepancy between the very good looks
of these two aggregates and what they experience in actual
life. It is an open secret there is extensive statistical
Frankly speaking, we liken asset bubbles and associated
credit bubbles with drugs. Just like human bodies can
become dangerously addicted to drugs, economies can become
dangerously addicted to these bubbles. Of course, drugs
cause severe damage to body and soul, and so do asset and
credit bubbles to the economy and its financial system. In
the U.S. case, these damages are highly visible. See the
collapse of saving, the monstrous trade deficit, the
capital spending crisis, miserable employment and income
growth and, on top of that, the debt explosion devastating
These are definitely the attributes of pathological,
unstable and unsustainable economic growth. These are more
than just symptoms, because they exert their own malign
effects. The decisive problem is that credit bubbles do not
evenly distribute their effects across the economy. They
concentrate on one or two areas, which expand out of
proportion to normal trend growth. In the U.S. case, the
latest credit excess has centered on durable goods, housing
and financial speculation.
Put differently, asset and credit bubbles distort the
economy's demand and output structure in an unsustainable
way. At some point in the future, the related spending
excesses flag, either under the pressure of credit
tightening or on their own accord. Depending on their size,
the bubble economy slides into recession.
Have the borrowing-and-spending excesses of the past years
in the United States been of a size to make a severe
adjustment crisis and deeper recession possible or
probable? That is today's most important question, not only
for the U.S. economy, but for the world economy. A crucial
related question, of course, is the U.S. economy's
resilience and flexibility to resist the coming adjustment
According to forecasts, the consensus economists expect the
U.S. economy to see little more than a brief and minor
economic slowdown from the housing blow. Basically, it is
still in their eyes a "Goldilocks" economy, its outstanding
emblem being low inflation interest rates.
For American economists, it is dogmatic that low inflation
rates are the infallible indicator of economic health. The
Great Depression of the 1930s, and also Japan's prolonged
economic malaise, both having followed many years of a
stable price level, should have taught a lesson about the
inadequacy of this aggregate as a measure of health and a
guide for policy.
The key point about the U.S. economy, really, is that the
forces that caused the 2001 recession never went away. They
went from bad to worse. Business fixed investment has not
really recovered from its slump in 2000–02. Its recovery in
the following years has been far too weak to offset the
prior loss. The counterpart and implicit cause of this
capital spending crisis are the spending excesses on
consumption and housing absorbing a growing share of GDP.
In 2005, consumer spending and the housing bubble accounted
for 90.1% of real GDP growth. Now consider the following
two figures: Real disposable income of private households
grew 1.2%. This compared with an increase in real consumer
spending by 3.5%. That is, spending rose three times as
fast as disposable income!
It is no secret what made this incredible discrepancy
between the two aggregates possible: equity extraction
against inflating house prices. Over the four years 2001–
05, outstanding mortgages of private households have jumped
from $5,292.9 billion to $8,888.1 billion, or 68%.
Apparently, the housing bubble was not only the icing on
the cake. It was the cake.
While U.S. real economic data overwhelmingly keep
surprising on the downside, comments by economists and the
media keep surprising on the upside. According to a count
by Kleinwort Benson (Dresdner Bank), the frequency with
which the word "Goldilocks" is mentioned in the financial
press has risen to its highest level since the word came
into vogue as a description of the ideal U.S. economic
This is grotesque. Compared with 2000, when the last
downturn started, the U.S. economy's growth fundamentals —
savings, investment and the trade balance — have
dramatically worsened. Debts, in particular of private
households, have escalated as never before.
And now comes the housing bust – a bust that has barely
started. The housing-driven wealth effect that Americans
have been enjoying has disappeared. And now that home
prices are falling, the wealth effects will become anti-
Rising home values have been supporting the U.S. economy's
recovery. Any significant fall in home values will abort
[Joel's Note: The housing bubble wasn't the only thing the
world's most notable classical economist predicted way
ahead of time – the wilting U.S. dollar and a plummeting
savings rate has lead Dr. Richebacher to some other ghastly
conclusions regarding current U.S. economic trajectory. The
following report outlines the coming crisis and, more
importantly, details exactly how you can prepare yourself
and your portfolio for it. Greenspan fans need not apply.
The Coming Crisis and How You Can Best Prepare
I believe Dr. De Koninck wanted to preserve the federal state. I have not read his writings, but I would like to see his arguments.
Evidently popular sovereignty applies only when you wish to break up and destroy other states.
Liberals side with PM on Quebec
By ROB GILLIES, Associated Press Writer Thu Nov 23, 10:30 PM ET
TORONTO - Canada's opposition Liberal party announced support Thursday for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motion recognizing French-speaking Quebec as a nation within Canada, adding political weight to an attempt to pre-empt similar efforts by Quebec separatists.
The support came a day after Harper stunned Parliament with the motion that calls Quebec a "nation within a united Canada." The move left some supporters cheering it as a bold political step while critics slammed it as a recipe for tearing apart the country.
Meanwhile, the separatist Bloc Quebecois introduced it motion Thursday that does not refer to a united Canada, but says Quebec is a nation "currently within Canada" — a formulation that raises the possibility that the province could one day secede from Canada.
Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe on Thursday told the House of Commons that Harper's motion to recognize Quebec nationhood while still including it in Canada was a clumsy attempt to "pull the wool over the public's eyes."
"When he attaches that condition, we can see through it that it's just a partisan tactic," Duceppe said. "I hope that the prime minister will recognize the Quebec nation, period."
The flap has reignited passions over whether the French-speaking province should be given independence. Quebecers have twice voted down referendums seeking independence from Canada; the last one was narrowly defeated in 1995.
The support of the majority of Liberals means that Conservative motion will likely pass next week. The two parties control almost three-quarters of the seats in the House of Commons.
Harper's motion, which is being debated, comes as his party languishes in third place in Quebec polls, behind the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals. The Tories gained seats in Quebec in the last election and need more from Quebec if they want to form a majority government in the next election.
Quebec separatists say strengthened by nation talk
By Randall Palmer and Robert Melnbardis 2 hours, 4 minutes ago
OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) - Acceptance that the people of French-speaking Quebec are a "nation," albeit one within Canada, has made the drive to independence all the easier, the head of the separatist Bloc Quebecois said on Friday. Reversing the position he took earlier this week, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said he would back a government motion that Quebecers form a nation "within a united Canada," and he described the concept as another weapon in his party's pro-independence arsenal.
"It's always better that when we're fighting for a sovereign Quebec that Canada recognize that Quebecers are a nation. That's a plus," Duceppe told reporters outside the House of Commons in Ottawa.
"It's very important for countries around the world, who will say, 'Even Canada recognizes they form a nation, they just said yes.' It's another weapon (for us)."
The Bloc, the third-largest party in the Canadian Parliament, would now ask whether Quebec had the right to speak for itself at the international level, Duceppe said.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper had argued that including the words "within a united Canada" would safeguard against separatists using his announcement to further their demands that Quebec secede from Canada.
Speaking in Montreal, he quipped that the Bloc's support for the Conservative motion was its third position in three days on the issue. "If I can have the support even of the Bloc for Canadian unity, I am happy." Harper said.
"This is not a constitutional amendment, not a legal text. This is merely a declaration of recognition and an act of reconciliation," he added.
Quebec is Canada' largest province by area and its second largest in terms of population with 7.5 million people. It has already held two referendums on whether to break away from Canada, in 1980 and in 1995, and the second one failed by a razor-thin margin of 50,000 votes.
The latest debate started when Duceppe put forward a motion to Parliament which said simply that Quebecers form a nation.
Harper consulted the other parties in Parliament and quickly drafted his own motion which added the concept that Quebecers were a nation within a united Canada.
He said on Friday said he knew that some people outside Quebec might be upset with his government's proposals, but said his efforts were aimed at promoting national unity.
"It's important to change this impression that the rest of Canada rejects the Quebec nation," Harper said.
Harper's Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, a pro-Canada legislator from Quebec, said Duceppe's turnaround meant the separatists had recognized the result of the 1995 referendum, where Quebec voters chose to stay in Canada.
But the mere recognition of Quebecers as a nation has raised questions about whether Harper was being brave when he decided to tackle an issue that politicians have steered away from for years, or whether he is opening a Pandora's box with no clear idea of what could happen next.
"Even if Mr. Harper's intent is to grant only symbolic recognition, will he be able to control the beast that gets unleashed?" the Ottawa Citizen asked in an editorial.(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa)
The Myth of Thomas Szsaz, by Jeffrey Oliver
A critique of modern psychology/psychiatry:
The Limits of Psychiatry
It is hard to doubt the reality of mental illness, especially when the suffering of affected individuals is so complete and the impairment so extreme, when psyche and identity are crippled almost beyond repair. But it is also remarkable how much of modern psychiatry is still theoretical rather than empirical, and how many of the supposed mental illnesses that appear (and multiply) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have no known biological underpinnings or explanations. Although Szasz’s critique often became a caricature, his intuition about the limits and deformations of modern psychiatry cannot be ignored. Many sick people have surely benefited from psychiatric treatment, both “talk therapy” and pharmacotherapy. But psychiatry’s long history of error—from snake pits to ice baths to spinning chairs to electroshock to lobotomy—should give us pause. Skepticism is not backwardness, even if Szasz often took his skepticism to rhetorical extremes.
At his best, Szasz actually clarified the Sisyphean predicament in which psychiatry remains largely stuck. For almost half a century, he has obstinately argued that a mind can only be sick in a metaphorical sense. And all this time, psychiatry has been desperate to prove what it claims to have already proven—to bring mental illnesses “down to the level of all other diseases of the human body, and to show that the mind and the body are moved by the same causes and subject to the same laws.” In response to the image crisis that psychiatry had suffered at Szasz’s hands, past-APA President Robert Felix offered the following cure: “More of us must intensify our efforts to become more identified with the mainstream of American medicine.” In other words, the legitimacy of psychiatry’s refutation of Thomas Szasz rests entirely on the profession’s ability to prove Benjamin Rush right. This was the goal implicit in Felix’s proposed merger with “the mainstream of American medicine.”
Not surprisingly, over the last four decades, psychiatry has systematically placed its greatest hopes in the biology of mental illness. We are led to believe that new disciplines like neuroscience are putting old ambiguities to rest. We hear of “explosions in scientific knowledge of the brain” and “remarkable advances in understanding the human mind.” Evidence of the biological basis of mental illnesses would seem to be so overwhelming that to doubt is akin to doubting evolution. Yet a review of the facts fails to reveal the sort of breathtaking advancement commonly claimed.
In her 2001 book Brave New Brain: Conquering Mental Illness in the Era of the Genome, Nancy Andreasen writes 174 pages before offering this tellingly brief and couched confession: “Because we cannot yet point to a specific lesion or a specific cause ... some critics (most notably Thomas Szasz of the University of Syracuse) have argued that mental illnesses must be myths.” Considering its context, the confession’s delay is disconcerting. In her introduction, Andreasen lauds the “powerful new technologies” that have already illuminated “the causes and mechanisms of mental illnesses on many different levels.” The reader must either assume that the technology is over-hyped or that mental illnesses are veritable black holes, reflecting very little of the blinding light we have apparently thrown on them. (Meanwhile, Szasz’s superfluity somehow continues to supersede the need for historical accuracy. Contrary to Andreasen’s description, he has never worked for the University of Syracuse.)
If mental illnesses truly begin in the brain, no psychiatrist on earth can conclusively say when, where, why, or how. Nearly one hundred years after Eugen Bleuler invented the word “schizophrenia” to describe, among others, the “irritable, odd, moody, withdrawn, or exaggeratedly punctual,” those who “vegetate as day laborers, peddlers, even as servants,” and “the wife ... who is unbearable, constantly scolding, nagging, always making demands but never recognizing duties,” the only way to diagnose this “disease,” or any other mental illness, remains the observation of behavior. Given the complexity of the human psyche, this makes sense: we can hardly expect the many moods and miseries of human life, even the most extreme, to have simple neurological explanations. But given the grand ambitions of modern psychiatry—to explain the human condition, to heal every broken soul—the reliance on behavioral observation has led to the medicalization of an ever-growing range of human behaviors. It treats life’s difficulties and oddities as clinical conditions rather than humanity in its fullness.