They shall not grow old

I saw Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old” last night in Washington at Gallery Place:

Peter Jackson directs this homage to the British troops of the First World War with never-before-seen-footage of soldiers as they faced the fear and uncertainty of frontline battle in Belgium. Digitally remastered and now in color, the footage has been studied by lip reading experts whose transcripts were recorded and used as audio for the film. Overlayed by a narrative of those who partook in the war from interviews made in the 1960s and 1970s, this historic revisiting marks one hundred years since the end of the Great War.

A few years ago a friend suggested that the easiest way to think about the World Wars of the last century is to think of them as a single, multi-generational civil war between Europe’s great powers and their colonial proxies. And that in thinking this way, it might be easier to think of the continuing conflicts and dramas of European continent of the present, and Anglo/Western nations more broadly, as continuing to work through the devastating long-term effects of that destabilizing civil war. I thought of that when watching They Shall Not Grow Old last night.

Incidentally, the title of Peter Jackson’s documentary is taken from Laurence Binyon’s 1914 “For the Fallen:”

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Pro-choice Americans oppose late-term abortion

Tyler O’Neil writes on our recent Americans United for Life/YouGov poll that indicates that majorities of pro-choice Americans oppose late-term abortion:

The vast majority of Americans who consider themselves pro-choice oppose the kind of radical abortion provisions proposed by Democrats in New York and Virginia, according to a new Americans United for Life (AUL)/YouGov poll released Tuesday.

A full 68 percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion the day before a child would be born, the poll found. Sixty-six percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion in the third trimester and another 77 percent of them oppose removing medical care for a viable child outside the womb. A majority of Americans (53 percent) identify as “pro-choice,” while a large minority (47 percent) identify as pro-life.

Americans as a whole proved even less likely to support the killing of a baby in these circumstances. Eighty percent oppose abortion the day before birth, 79 percent oppose abortion in the third trimester, and 82 percent oppose removing medical care for a viable child after birth.

“This survey vividly reveals both the American people’s common-sense appreciation for the sanctity of life and the widespread horror, even among self-identified pro-choice Americans, of new laws like New York’s that effectively allow abortion up until the moment of delivery,” Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of AUL, said in a statement on the findings. …

Last month, Gov. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed the Reproductive Health Act (S.B. 240) on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973). The law allows abortion throughout pregnancy — even up to the baby’s due date — in the name of protecting a woman’s health. It also repeals protections for babies who survive abortion and removes New York’s protections for wanted babies killed if a pregnant mother is physically abused. …

Few Americans realize, however, that the current legal system is indeed this radical. Under Roe v. Wade and later Supreme Court precedent, if a doctor considers killing an unborn baby vital to save the life or health of a woman, an abortion can be performed up until the moment of birth. The Court’s precedent has an extremely vague definition for “health,” enabling a wide loophole for late-term abortion.

“Few Americans realize that when Roe v. Wade enshrined abortion into American law, it did so with practically no limits,” Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer at AUL, told PJ Media. “Abortion is often justified based on the alleged basis of maternal health, but for most of America’s post-Roe history, there has been no consistent definition for what constitutes a legitimate health reason.”

“In practice, the sort of permissive abortion law that New York has adopted simply enshrines a peculiar public right to private forms of violence upon the most vulnerable members of the human family,” Shakely declared.

According to a Knights of Columbus poll released last month, a whopping 65 percent of Americans support changes to the law that would involve repealing Roe v. Wade.

We commissioned this poll precisely to discover where Americans stand on some of these fundamental life issues. What we’ve found is that late-term abortion is a nonpartisan issue: large majorities of Americans on both sides of the traditional pro-choice/pro-life spectrum reject late term abortion, not to mention the sort of acts that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has legalized in New York or that Gov. Ralph Northam would legalize in Virginia.

Classical music, new music

Vanessa Thorpe reports on classical music:

To many, the decision announced last week to launch Scala Radio, a major new station founded on the belief that classical music can appeal to younger audiences, will have come as a surprise. But research has shown clear indications of new listening trends, with almost half (45%) of young people saying they see classical music as an escape from the noise of modern life.

The new digital radio station will have DJ Simon Mayo at the forefront of its presenting team when it launches in March. Mayo, who left BBC Radio 2 last year, will be joined at Scala by the unorthodox orchestral music lover Goldie and Observer film critic Mark Kermode, who will play many of his favourite film scores.

The launch of a new classical entertainment station aimed at younger listeners is based on more than a hunch. Research found that a new generation of listeners was switching on to classical music through different sources, with 48% of under-35s exposed to it through classical versions of popular songs, such as the Brooklyn Duo version of Taylor Swift’s Blank. And 74% of people in the same age group had experienced classical music via a live orchestral performance at a film screening, according to analysts at Insight working for Bauer Media, owner of the new station. …

Jack Pepper, Britain’s youngest commissioned composer, will also be joining Scala. The 19-year-old said: “Classical music is surrounded by the misconception that it’s irrelevant, sterile and inaccessible. … the classical masters have shocking, entertaining, humorous and sometimes tragic life stories. A classical composer is a normal human being with the same ups and downs we can all relate to.”

The growing popularity of classical music among young people follows recent survey results highlighting young people’s use of art galleries and museums as sanctuaries and figures released last week showing rising sales of poetry among younger readers.

Commercial/pop music has become so pervasive that it might not be a stretch to think of contemporary classical music as a new alternative genre. In other words, what makes music “classical” is so generally foreign today that it’s functionally new.

What the Freeh Report is good for

I haven’t thought much about Penn State’s November 2011 Jerry Sandusky scandal for a while. Not since the NCAA reversed itself in 2015 and voided its sanctions against Penn State and Joe Paterno, in acknowledgement of a rush to judgment driven by emotivism and vindictiveness. And not since the 2016 dismissal of felony conspiracy charges against Penn State’s former leadership, which was the most significant remaining issue with the potential to either confirm or refute the narrative of an institutional cover-up.

But I thought about the Sandusky scandal again today in light of the just-leaked “Report to the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University on the Freeh Report’s Flawed Methodology and Conclusions,” a minority report of the Penn State Board of Trustees. The 2012 Freeh Report was held up at the time of its release as an independent and trustworthy investigation of Penn State’s leadership. The Freeh Report’s conclusion of institutional coverup for the purpose of protecting the image of the university not only legitimized the Penn State Board of Trustees’s snap decision in November 2011 to fire then-Penn State President Graham Spanier and Coach Joe Paterno, but it also formed the basis for both devastating legal culpability for the victims of a former employee and for the NCAA’s decision to sanction the university and its student athletes.

It was in 2015 that Penn State’s new president Eric J. Barron dismissed the Freeh Report:

“There’s no doubt in my mind, Freeh steered everything as if he were a prosecutor trying to convince a court to take the case,” Barron said, adding that Freeh “very clearly paints a picture about every student, every faculty member, every staff member and every alum. And it’s absurd. It’s unwarranted. So from my viewpoint the Freeh report is not useful to make decisions.”

These criticisms of the Freeh Report echoed those of Dick Thornburgh, former U.S. Attorney General, who in 2013 had underscored that the Freeh Report constituted merely “raw speculation and unsupported opinion—not facts and evidence.” Malcolm Gladwell has said as much. Bob Costas has said as much.

What has been amazing to those who followed the Penn State and Jerry Sandusky scandal, though, is that the Penn State Board of Trustees (the same Board of Trustees that commissioned that report) has never formally accepted or rejected the Freeh Report’s findings. This, despite the fact that the Freeh Report functioned to confirm the worst possible, most malicious narrative about Penn State leadership’s handling of Jerry Sandusky, and despite the fact that the Freeh Report opened Penn State up to hundreds of millions of dollars in liability for Sandusky’s crimes. Hence the need for a minority of Penn State Trustees to produce the now-leaked minority “Report to the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University on the Freeh Report’s Flawed Methodology and Conclusions,” which the larger Penn State Board had attempted to suppress last year. The minority trustees shared this statement in light of yesterday’s leak:

“The fact is the Board’s tacit acceptance of the Freeh Report led to profound reputational damage, along with over $250 million in costs so far to Penn State. It is perplexing that the University clings to the conclusions of a report that has been criticized by so many, including Penn State President Eric Barron. We fervently believe that the best way forward is for the Board and the University to openly and thoughtfully consider the comprehensive and well-researched findings from our review so that we can finally come to an honest conclusion.”

Gary Sinderson of WMAJ, which leaked the minority report, puts the news in context:

The document, officially titled, “Report to the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University on the Freeh Report’s flawed methodology and conclusions” was completed and presented to the full trustee board in the summer of 2018.

The seven trustees who commissioned the report said the full board decided to not make its findings public.

In 2011, in the wake of the arrest of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on charges that included involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, the university commissioned former FBI Director Louis Freeh to compile a report on the university’s involvement. Freeh was reportedly paid $8 million.

In its report, the group of seven former and current trustees concluded Penn State paid for an independent investigation that was not independent, fair or thorough.

The trustees’ report said the Freeh report investigators used deeply flawed methodology and the report is full of factual mistakes. Page 18 of the trustees’ report, titled “Use of coercion,” said the Freeh investigators “shouted, were insulting and demanded that interviewees give them specific information — such as — tell me Joe Paterno knew Sandusky was abusing kids.”

This report said some university employees who were interviewed were told cooperation was a key to keeping their jobs. In fact, one employee told the investigators of the Freeh report that he was fired for not cooperating.

The trustee’s report said the Freeh team did not interview many key figures in the Sandusky scandal, including Sandusky, Paterno and university administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schutz, as well as Mike McQueary.

The Freeh report said Penn State has a football culture problem. But the trustees’ report says Freeh had a conflict of interest with the NCAA, and that his company was attempting to be the organization’s go-to investigative firm.

The trustees’ report also contains a long discussion about the Freeh team’s claim of being independent, with the trustees’ report finding the Freeh team was actually sharing information with the NCAA, Penn State administrators and the prosecutors in the Sandusky case.

Freeh has long defended his work at Penn State, saying in the past, “Since 2015, these misguided alumni have been fighting rearguard action to turn the clocks back and resist the positive changes which the PSU students and faculty have fully embraced.” Freeh’s report included more than 100 recommended university policy changes, many of which were adopted by Penn State.

And Elissa Hill at Onward State writes on the report’s takeaways:

The seven current and former trustee signatories to the report are Ted Brown, Barb Doran, Bob Jubelirer, Anthony Lubrano, Ryan McCombie, Bill Oldsey, and Alice Pope. They used their access to this source information to develop the report that was published by WJAC, disputing the Freeh Report’s findings and calling the Board’s previous “tacit acceptance” of the Freeh Report “a fiduciary breach.”

The report lays out its findings in a pretty straightforward manner:

  • There’s no support for the Freeh Report’s conclusion that Paterno, Spanier, Curley, or Schultz knew of Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children.
  • There’s no support for the Freeh Report’s conclusion that Penn State’s culture was responsible for allowing Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children.
  • The independence of the Freeh Report was compromised by collaboration with the NCAA, then-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and the state attorney general, and members of the Board of Trustees.
  • The NCAA, Corbett, and the Board of Trustees influenced the Freeh Report with conflicts of interests.
  • The Freeh Report used “unreliable methods for conducting and analyzing interviews” upon which it based its conclusions.

The report from the small group of trustees rejects the Freeh Report, saying Freeh “did not fulfill his obligation to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation.”

No serious person who has been paying attention to this story since November 2011 can still plausibly argue that Freeh conducted an “independent and comprehensive” investigation into Penn State’s role and culpability for Jerry Sandusky’s actions. No one seriously defends the Freeh Report except for those who paid for it and benefited from its since repudiated findings—that is, no one seriously defends the Freeh Report except for the leadership of the Penn State Board of Trustees itself, who has a perpetual interest in discouraging any public acknowledgement of their own culpability for fiduciary breach, rush to judgment, and downright naiveté.

Arguing well

Ian Lindquist writes on BASIS Curriculum Schools:

Founded in 1998 in Tucson by Michael and Olga Block with the mandate of providing rigorous instruction to enable Arizona students to compete internationally with their peers, the BASIS Curriculum Schools network now includes 27 charter schools, 5 independent schools, and 5 international schools in China and the Czech Republic. The original BASIS Curriculum model emphasized rigorous education in math and science and a lot of high-level learning in subjects considered off the beaten path for younger students, like logic, economics, and Mandarin. As a result, the network’s charters have, in the past few years, gained a reputation for excellence and now compete with some of the best schools in the country in the annual rankings in U.S. News & World Report and the Washington Post. Indeed, the top five public high schools in the country, according to U.S. News, are all BASIS charter schools.

BASIS will now attempt to address the reluctance among young Americans to enter into genuine intellectual debate. In the fall of 2019, the network plans to launch a program for grades 8 through 10 at its independent school in McLean, Virginia, emphasizing liberal education. …

At the center of the program is the belief that students benefit by learning how to argue respectfully and that such an education will make them better citizens. …

Peter Bezanson, chief executive officer of BASIS, reports that each history class in the new program will have 2 teachers who will convene 20 students around a seminar table. The teachers, whom Bezanson says will have different viewpoints on the historical material, will have one shared ideal: a commitment to encouraging students to debate, disagree, and discuss, and to model reasonable debate and disagreement for them.

To argue well is something like the opposite of quarreling or fighting or any of the sort of public trivia that contemporary news presents to the public. I think that arguing well requires the sort of virtues that Lindquist outlines, and it also requires a shared vocabulary, a shared commitment to the possibility of objective truth and, ideally, agreement on the telos of human life:

To prepare teachers for a classroom hospitable to debate and discussion, Bezanson plans to send teachers from the BASIS Curriculum Schools network to study at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, each summer. St. John’s is the natural choice for BASIS teachers because its course of study is grounded in the twin pillars of the great books and Socratic seminars. Seminar participants sit around a table and discuss the work at hand for two hours at a time. As a former St. John’s undergraduate student, I can attest that in this environment debate and disagreement thrive. And as Frank Bruni recently wrote in the New York Times, this is not because the St. John’s classroom is full of animosity, but because students sharpen their minds as they spend so much time interrogating texts.

Emily Langston, associate dean for graduate programs at St. John’s, says that the St. John’s classroom is based on two suppositions: “The idea that the text has something to teach us” and the fact that “we don’t all think the same thing about the text.” Indeed, “the idea that we can disagree and be respectful and, in doing so, learn from each other, is part of what community means.” Disagreement and discussion are the fabric of community, not its antithesis. …

Discussion based on a text in a seminar-style format helps students achieve aptitude and high-level practice in the four grammatical skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. These are critical and essential to any further education. They’re also, in many cases, requisite for a meaningful life in literate society.

Most importantly, seminars inherently teach how to be a citizen in a liberal society by teaching participants how to weigh words, and, in doing so, practice a standard of truth and goodness. Students learn to recognize words that demonstrate the truth of a point rather than trusting the authority of the one who speaks them. This inculcates a taste for demonstrable truth and persuasive argument and a distaste for propaganda.

Seminars allow students to enter into a shared space with their peers even as they disagree. There is no sarcasm, no withholding of oneself or one’s efforts from the group, which means that two people can disagree on almost every point of interpretation about a text while still sharing something fundamental: common and equal investment in the discussion. …

Around the seminar table is where citizenship is best forged—face-to-face, peer-to-peer. It’s an encouraging sign that BASIS, already a leader in K-12 education, recognizes a need to train students in habits that will make them good friends, neighbors, and citizens.

Governing in our own century

Daniel McCarthy writes that “America’s fundamental political choice now is between mild nationalism, resurgent socialism, or suicide by liberalism, whether of the libertarian or palliative sort:”

That being the case, how would the nationalist alternative work?

It would begin by rejecting propaganda about the end of the export economy. World population is still growing, and growing wealthier, which means there are more people around the world increasingly capable of buying goods made in America. We sacrificed some of our competitive advantage after World War II for the sake of Cold War strategy, and we were right to do so. But now the time has come to compete to the utmost, at once politically and economically, with our rivals, above all China. That means driving bargains to open markets for our goods while permitting access to our markets—still the most desirable in the world—on terms favorable to our citizens in full, in their capacity as producers, not just as consumers. The argument that the loss of manufacturing jobs to technology excuses the extinction of manufacturing employment is not an argument at all. What follows is that we ought to minimize the loss of employment due to every factor not technologically inevitable, such as ill-conceived trade deals. Tariffs are not an end in themselves, of course: They are a defensive measure and a source of leverage.

President Trump’s instincts are correct about immigration as well: It is in need of reform that puts citizens first, with emphasis on supporting higher wages for workers. Less low-skill immigration puts upward pressure on wages. And what if there just aren’t enough American workers to fill all the jobs? That’s good, too, because, other things being equal, it encourages larger family size. When parents see opportunities for their children in a world in which more labor is needed, they have confidence to have more children. This is why populations everywhere boom at the onset of an industrial revolution, and it’s a reason why frontier settler populations so often have such high rates of family formation. Get employment growing again for Americans who are not already on the top of the heap, and their families can grow again, too. …

The idea that economic nationalism is not compatible with free-market economics is absurd. The history of America from the founding to the New Deal belies the idea that nationalist economics is bad for business or growth. Its virtue is that it is good for labor and political stability as well. From growth, a contented middle class, and moderate political culture flow a strong country and stronger families and citizens. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, when nations and supranational institutions are in turmoil, those benefits are of existential significance.

The ideal of Jefferson’s agrarian America (as distinct from its too often plantation-based reality) was a nation of virtuous yeomanry—small, independent farmers capable of providing for their families themselves. Abraham Lincoln’s vision was of a country in which working men, not only farmers, could improve their standards of life. In the twentieth century, the American dream became a thing to which every salaryman could aspire: a good job; enough money to buy a house, start a family, and retire; and the chance to watch one’s children rise to a higher station. In the twenty-first century, that dream has given way to delirium—feverish uncertainty about whether in midlife one will have to become an Amazon deliveryman or a Walmart greeter, and anxiety about whether one’s children will be tech-company winners or endlessly indebted gig workers.

We need to accept the responsibilities of leadership. That means governing in the century in which we actually live rather than the one shaped by our political heroes. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world began to change, and our country with it. Those changes have accelerated and are now threatening to tear us apart. The way forward requires refocusing on the American citizen as the basic unit of the economy. This is the essence of a nationalist political economy, which we very much need if our country’s tradition of personal independence and limited government is to endure, a tradition in which government’s primary economic role is not to provide welfare but to safeguard the conditions that make productive work possible.

“Culture comes first,” McCarthy writes, “but like a final cause or end in Aristotle’s philosophy, it is first in priority, not necessarily first in time or action. We need to bring this truth forward, for we’ve forgotten it over the past few decades.” McCarthy’s piece is worthwhile for perspective on something that millions of Americans across the political spectrum feel: that fundamentals are at risk of breaking in our body politic.

What makes Dan McCarthy a consistently interesting writer is that he’s concerned with what so many political and cultural writers ignore: first principles.

Human nonpersons and human rights

Bobby Schindler writes on the consequences of the logic of thinking of human life and human persons as severable:

Wesley J. Smith, author and bioethicist, wrote nearly two decades ago, “Practitioners of bioethics say who should live, and who should die.” Smith cautioned of an alarming and insidious trend within the modern bioethics’ movement known as “personhood theory.” He described how some bioethicists were asserting that what matters “morally” is not that one is “human,” but that one has a legal status as a “person.”

What makes someone a legal person with human rights worth respecting? One must possess, those bioethicists argued, mental competencies, such as “self-awareness” or having the ability to “engage in rational behavior.”

Consequently, those who did not fit this criterion would fall into the category of being defined as a human “non-person.” These “non-persons” would include embryos, the unborn child, infants (up to the first few years of life), those with Alzheimer’s disease, cognitively disabled individuals, and individuals with significant developmental disabilities. Indeed, if one fit the definition of being a human “non-person,” a philosophical determination, then bioethicists would accordingly be able to shape the social, cultural, judicial, and medical criteria for any one person enjoying basic human rights—including the right to life itself.

Peter Singer is perhaps the most infamous of this bioethical cohort. In 1998, Singer was appointed to Princeton University’s Professorship of Bioethics and has since served as a prominent advocate for personhood theory. His advocacy of the notion of human “non-persons” has been attractive to many and he enjoys a sort of celebrity status among bioethicists and ethicists generally.Today, personhood theory is part of ethics taught in countless colleges, and it’s having a significant impact on those most vulnerable to its dehumanizing logic.

It was not long ago, for instance, that to intentionally starve and dehydrate someone to death for any reason would have been thought of as barbaric and inhumane. Yet, Terri Schiavo, my sister, became just one of the more prominent of the countless victims of Peter Singer’s logic. Terri lived with a brain injury and was cognitively disabled, but her husband and, ultimately, judicial decision makers came to accept that her life lacked sufficient value to continue feeding her. Take note of this 2005 exchange between Smith and Professor Bill Allen, bioethicist at the University of Florida, debating Terri’s life:

Wesley Smith: “Bill, do you think Terri is a person?”

Bill Allen: “No, I do not. I think having awareness is an essential criterion for personhood.”

Fast forward to 2014: An article by The College Fix’s Mairead McArdle exposed “anecdotal evidence” that more college students support post-birth abortion, suggesting that children up to 5-years-old could be put to death because they are not sufficiently “self-aware” and thus they do not constitute “persons.”

In 2018, a video surfaced of a University of Tennessee Knoxville student who rationalized support for infanticide of two-year-olds based on the fact that the child is not sufficiently “sentient.” The student offered that “without communication, we have no way of knowing if you are sentient or not. It’s no different than this tree. It’s alive, but is it sentient? I don’t know. I cannot communicate with it.”

Can we really accept that we are, at any time, simply one accident away from being deemed by an overzealous bioethicist a “human nonperson” who unwillingly forfeits basic human rights?

Georgetown in midwinter

A few scenes from waking through Georgetown over the past week or so. First, on a snowy Friday morning on February 1st on M Street:

Later on along O Street, heading west toward Holy Trinity on Sunday morning, February 3rd:

And lastly along Dumbarton and Wisconsin, on warmer and springlike Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, February 5th and 6th:

Little scenes from daily life.

‘Tales as wondrous as Homer’s’

As a follow-on from the Life Magazine cover I shared recently, here’s Joe Sobran:

Tone is the immediate expression of values, and the tone characteristic of abortion advocates is that of the sneer. And for a natural reason: their position is reductionist, value-denying. It intentionally minimizes the worth of the incipient human life; and let us bear in mind that for a long while it minimized the facts themselves. It is a prejudice, in the fundamental sense that it springs from the will in advance of any knowledge; it is not a conclusion from the available evidence, nor a perplexity caused by inordinate communion with complexities …

A very different tone was sounded by Newsweek in its January 11, 1982 cover story “How Life Begins.” Written by Sharon Begley, it began:

“If newborns could remember and speak, they would emerge from the womb carrying tales as wondrous as Homer’s. They would describe the fury of conception and the sinuous choreography of nerve cells, billions of them dancing pas de deux to make connections that infuse mere matter with consciousness. They would recount how the amorphous glob of an arm bud grows into the fine structure of fingers agile enough to play a polonaise. They would tell of cells swarming out of the nascent spinal cord to colonize far reaches of the embryo, helping to form face, head and glands. The explosion of such complexity and order — a heart that beats, legs that run and a brain powerful enough to contemplate its own origins –seems like a miracle. It is as if a single dab of white paint turned into the multicolored splendor of the Sistine ceiling.”

Miss Begley went on to speak of the abortion question as “scientifically unanswerable,” and yet she implicitly answered it herself, in her accents of stunned wonder. The very facts of fetal development, far from inducing value-free detachment, inspired her to remarkable eloquence.

Her whole article, though merely descriptive, was suffused with the reverence of a mind free of self-interest and absorbed by the unfolding reality before it. Reading it one felt that rare and sublime sensation of beholding, of sharing the intellect’s love of its object. “The five-week embryo, only one-third of an inch long, is a marvel of miniaturization: limb buds are sending out shoots whose dimples mark the nascent hands and feet, and the hindbrain has grown stalked eye cups.”

Stalked eye cups! This is not a “pretty” description, but an enthralled one, and it takes a certain nerve to insist, in the face of such data, that description has no bearing on prescription, or that the thing described is no more than a “blob of protoplasm.”

And we allow such things to be killed. They are destined to be men and women; they are what we once were. Is not our indifference to them, our official denial of our kinship with them, a judgment on ourselves?

As if to balance the undeniable import of Miss Begley’s article with a kind of moral disclaimer, Newsweek supplemented it with a shorter piece titled “But Is It a Person?”

“It is unquestionably alive,” wrote Jerry Adler, “a unique entity . . .” But, he continued, “The question is one for philosophers, not scientists; . . . the problem is not determining when ‘actual human life’ begins, but when the value of that life begins to outweigh other considerations, such as the health, or even the happiness, of the mother. And on that question, science is silent.”

From the heights to the depths. This was pretty near absurdity. Science, in the sense of physical analysis, is silent on every moral question, for the simple reason that science is not ethics.

We’ve got to recapture the capacity to conceive of the youngest members of the human family in the true and epic terms that Sharon Begley did in her Newsweek piece; in the sense of human beings emerging into the world, who though lacking autonomy and self sufficiency and independence for years upon years nonetheless have already are adventurers with “tales as wondrous as Homer’s.” Thinking in this way might help get the rest of us out of ourselves, and help get us thinking about more than our own ego and our own concerns and instead be content simply to be in the presence of the extraordinariness of others in the sense that C.S. Lewis invites us to think of others:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”