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Archive for May 2013




DaddJudith Potts writes in the Daily Telegraph:

One day in 2007 my late mother – then a sprightly 93 year old – said to me “I do wish these people would get off my sofa. They sit there all day and only go if I tap them on their heads or shoulders.” She and I were the only people in the room.

I was extremely alarmed when she described her “visions”. Not only were there the faceless people on her sofa but other apparitions which peppered her daily life and had been doing so for about 18 months. I suspect she decided to confide in me at that point because some of the “visions” were becoming difficult to tolerate. Up to that moment, she was terrified – not of the visions, but of losing her sanity.

Listening to her descriptions of gargoyle-like creatures evading capture, an Edwardian funeral procession – complete with plumed horses, carriages and clergy in red cassocks – and an urchin hopping from room to room, I was perplexed. I drove home pondering how to help, picking up a newspaper on the way. To my enormous surprise, the paper carried an article about exactly my mother’s experience and I learned that the condition had a name – Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
With this lucky discovery, I began to do some research and was able to reassure my mother that she was not alone – in fact it is reckoned that there might be two million people in the UK suffering from this condition….

The medical term for mum’s “visions” is Visual Hallucinations and they occur when there is partial or total loss of vision, caused by macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or cataracts. The brain, which controls sight through the eye, fills in the blank spots with stored images. These can be from real life, from film or television, from books or radio. While these visual hallucinations tend to happen to people as they age, anyone who experiences loss of vision can be affected, even children.




Good News From Vermont

Cemetery, Milan, Sept 1988 (AS)Vermont may be a lefty sort of place, but occasionally it gets some things right. MSNBC reports:

After 10 years of emotionally-charged debate, Vermont became the first state in the country to pass a doctor-assisted suicide bill through the legislative process. Governor Peter Shumlin signed the “Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act” into law Monday allowing physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to dying, mentally competent patients who want to end their lives. This would apply only to residents of the state.

“Vermonters who face terminal illness and are in excruciating pain at the end of their lives now have control over their destinies. This is the right thing to do,” said Gov. Shumlin, a Democrat.

Three other states have similar “death with dignity” laws on the books. Oregon and Washington enacted these laws through ballot measures. In Montana, a court ruling made it legal in 2009. Similar to Oregon and Washington, the new Vermont law provides built-in safeguards to make sure these patients meet certain requirements and that they are of sound mind. For the next three years, sick patients must formally make the request at least three times. And the patient’s primary care doctor and a consulting physician must agree with the diagnosis that the person is, in fact, terminally ill and able to make an informed decision. The Health Department will get reports from doctors on how many patients they prescribed lethal drugs. After July 1, 2016, Vermont won’t require as much monitoring and reporting under the law.

According to the AP, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen estimated doctors will write between 10 and 20 lethal prescriptions a year, but not as many patients will go through with the process and actually take the lethal drugs…

Over at the Wall Street Journal Paul McHugh complains about this modest measure in an unconvincing article that is childish:

And then there is this talk about “death with dignity,” as the Oregon and Washington laws are titled. Surely what we want is “life with dignity.” Seeking life, we’re ready to endure much in order to keep it going. Think of the life-saving and life-preserving colonoscopy—all dignity drops with your trousers.

And comes complete with guilt-by-association:

For you see, the terminators ultimately are not merely interested in killing people who are suffering the throes of a final illness. They have even others in mind, as history tells us. The drive to allow doctors to “assist” in suicide is not recent. Its roots are in the Progressive era of the early 20th century, when many Americans placed utter confidence in reform and in technocratic elites. Then the enthusiasts for euthanasia lined up with those clamoring for government intervention in the name of eugenics and population control.

And, well, this:

Another argument for physician-assisted suicide is that many patients with cancer live too long in pain. The suffering could be reduced if their legitimate wish for death were fulfilled. These are the arguments pressed by Dr. Timothy Quill and many in the Oregon “death with dignity” group.

But scientific publications from oncologists such as Kathleen Foley, who studies patients with painful cancers, reveal that, quite to the contrary, most cancer patients want help with the pain so they can continue to live. Suicide is mentioned only by those patients with serious but treatable depressive illness, or by those who are overwhelmed by confusion about matters such as their burden on loved ones and their therapeutic options. These patients are relieved when their doctors attend to the sources of their psychological distress and correct them.

The simple (and encouraging) answer to that is that a huge majority of cancer patients do indeed choose to live on, and, yes, proper counseling and treatment for depression can encourage them to make that choice.

That said, there are doubtless some terminal patients who—quite rationally—decide that enough pain is enough, and that it’s time to move on. The Vermont law will help some such individuals reassert, one last time, control over the lives that are theirs, and theirs alone.

In a 2002 New York Times piece, Dr. McHugh (a Roman Catholic) was described as “religiously orthodox, politically liberal (he is a Democrat) and culturally conservative”. The latter is an infinitely debatable term. If we look, however, at the other two attributes listed– religious orthodoxy and political liberalism—it’s not hard to see why respect for individual liberty ranks so very low on his list of priorities.

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There’s been so much said about l’affaire Richwine that I am not keen to get deeply involved. I would advise that you read Jason Richwine’s account, as well as Ph.D. thesis itself. There are now various movements to expurgate Richwine’s thesis on explicitly ideological grounds. This is very stupid.

As a non-liberal with some affiliation with academia I’m in a peculiar position. I get to observe people blithely confusing their normative presuppositions with the basic background assumptions of the average person. By analogy, in a conservative evangelical church “Christians” have specific opinions on issues such as abortion and taxes. And yet the reality is that there are many self-identified Christians who would take issue with these assumptions. But these other types of Christians may not be part of the social group of conservative evangelicals, so the implicit assumption is that those who would espouse abortion rights and higher taxes must be secular humanists (actually, most self-identified liberals are religious and believe in God).

What’s happening here is that many liberals hold that Richwine’s thesis is ipso facto racist due to the axioms and inferences he made. Obviously this is a red line for the cultural Left today, and it makes sense why they would be outraged. The issue is that this thesis has already been given the stamp of approval by Harvard via the regular channels. If the thesis was put under special scrutiny or even revoked on ideological grounds then that would be rather exceptional, and also a major crack in the facade of the idea of intellectual integrity within the academy.

The problem with this is that many questions and conclusions which liberals are not so offended by are quite offensive and objectionable to non-liberals, and especially social conservatives. People within the academy are generally not conscious of this because they rarely encounter people who are offended by the concept of Queer Studies, or the type of Ph.D. theses which come out of these departments. Currently exploration of topics objectionable and offensive to “Middle America” are protected by the idea that part of the academy’s role is to provoke and even offend, to explore taboo  issues and reach shocking conclusions. But if the academy starts to make exceptions in such a blatant manner for areas which it finds the offense unacceptable, then its defense of heterodoxy becomes much weaker. Outrage for thee, but not for me.

This may not may not be a big issue in the short run. But, it will contribute to the continued alienation of the majority of the nation from elite higher education, especially the sort of research institutions which by their very nature are going to be culturally transgressive of mainstream values. If the cultural Left manages to get an asterisk placed on the Richwine Ph.D., or have it revoked, then the rational move by conservatives is simple. First, conservative think-tanks should go put the spotlight on the Ph.D.’s of prominent liberals and highlight aspects which are “objectionable” so as to smear their reputations (e.g., anything “anti-American” or sympathetic to cultural Marxism, or questioning bourgeois institutions like marriage). Second, an army of activists could comb through departments which are known award Ph.D.’s with “radical” political and social agendas, and use these as evidence to argue that the academy has become just an arm of cultural Leftism and should no longer receive public funds aside from explicitly practical disciplines (e.g., engineering).

I think a reasonable person can make the case that academic research questions and conclusions should not be adjudicated in by a “voice vote” of democratic acclaim or rejection. But once you open this sort of Pandora’s Box it’s hard to put the tool you unleashed back in. You can’t always control the ends once the means are available.



Unknown Unknowns

Looking up something about postwar British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, I came across the following gem.

Attlee, in old age, is being interviewed by a biographer, Kenneth Harris.

Harris: Would you say you are an agnostic?

Attlee: I don’t know.

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Same Old, Same Old

Pope FrancisThe pope is a new pope, and Twitter is a new(ish) medium, but Francis certainly knows the old tunes. Here’s a papal tweet from this morning:

My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost.

Don’t get me wrong: unemployment is a curse and a scourge, but to blame it on an overdose of the profit motive is economic illiteracy worthy of—oh I don’t know—the previous pope perhaps, or, for that matter, some ancient socialist or maybe, just maybe, an old Peronist or two.




About That First Amendment Thing

ZubikCBS Pittsburgh:

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Students at Carnegie Mellon say it’s freedom of expression, but the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh calls it inappropriate and disrespectful. At an annual art school parade, a female student dressed up as the pope, and was naked from the waist down while she passed out condoms. Even more, witnesses say the woman had shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross….

“I think we all know that when we’re growing up we do stupid things but to cross over the line in this instance shouldn’t happen with anybody,” Bishop David Zubik said.

Bishop Zubik says the incident must be addressed. “What I do want to have happen is for this person to learn an important lesson,” Zubik said. The University encourages individual thought and artistic expression but the Diocese believes this student not only crossed the line, but trampled all over it.

They are demanding some action…..


I don’t know whether such a childish display is of a nature to warrant First Amendment protection, but it is somewhat tactless of a Bishop who has recently been doing plenty of complaining about what he sees as a threat to his First Amendment rights, to be quite so insistent that this student be punished for exercising what might be hers.

The decision over what (if anything) should be done about this incident is for the university and—if it came to it—the courts. The bishop was well within his rights to criticize what this lady did—and I don’t blame him for doing just that—but when he calls for disciplinary action he—how shall I put it—not only crossed a line, but trampled all over it.

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