Nearly Christmas in Washington

A few scenes from this past week in Washington, on/around Connecticut Avenue near the office, nearby at St. Arnold’s on Jefferson Street, and in Georgetown.

It started to feel like Christmas in earnest this week, as people started to leave the city for the holiday with family and friends. I’ll be staying in Washington until Christmas, heading to Philadelphia on Christmas morning.

Handel’s Messiah

I’ve looked out onto the Kennedy Center many times, and driven past it or run past it many times, but never been inside. Tonight I visited the Kennedy Center for Handel’s Messiah with some Leonine Forum fellows:

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National Symphony Orchestra: Handel’s Messiah
Thursday, December 19, 2019 – Sunday, December 22, 2019

Since its debut nearly three centuries ago, one work reigns unchallenged as the ultimate celebration of holiday cheer: Handel’s Messiah. This year, experience Messiah’s supreme glory in Sir Andrew Davis’s must-hear orchestration with a stellar cast of soloists and The Washington Chorus.

“Everything I have done instrumentally stems from the enormous respect, even awe, which I feel towards this supreme masterpiece.”—Sir Andrew Davis, conductor

Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
Andriana Chuchman, soprano
Daniela Mack, mezzo-soprano
Alek Shrader, tenor
Sidney Outlaw, bass
The Washington Chorus; Christopher Bell, Artistic Director
Handel: Messiah (arr. Davis)

Human rights and human violence

Today the District of Columbia moved closer to embracing the fiction the human rights can ever include a right to end human life. David Grosso, DC Council At-Large, described the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019, which he co-sponsored, this way:

To amend the Human Rights Act of 1977 to recognize the right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization and to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term to term, to give birth, or to have an abortion, to prohibit the District government from interfering with reproductive health decisions and from imposing a punishment or penalty on an individual for a self-managed abortion, miscarriage, or adverse pregnancy outcomes, and to prohibit employment discrimination against health care professionals based on the professional’s participation in or the fact that the health care professional is willing to participate in, abortion or sterilization procedures.

But this description obscures what the legislation would do. Katie Glenn, Government Affairs Counsel at Americans United for Life, testified against the Act and highlighted some of its key deficits:

  • Although council members may say that their intent to cover a limited range of employers with this Act, it extends broadly across the spectrum of health care without exception for faith-based providers. This includes school nurses, care for the elderly, and pregnancy care centers.
  • The Act would violate the 1st Amendment rights of many service providers because they’d be forced to choose between violating their conscience or violating the law.
  • DC already has some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country, yet this Act would make it even more difficult to regulate health and safety in the abortion context in any meaningful way.
  • DC is one of just three jurisdictions with an affirmative right to abortion for minor girls, and this Act would double down on that bad public policy.
  • Clearing the way for abortionists to perform abortions on minor girls without regulation or oversight is not “women’s health.” It is dangerous and wrong.

I offered my own testimony as a District resident, particularly on the issues of conscience and protection of the vulnerable. Because public witnesses are only provided three minutes, I had to deliver an abbreviated version of the remarks submitted in writing below:

Testimony on DC B23-434, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019.”

Committee on Government Operations
The Council of the District of Columbia

December 19, 2019

Dear Chairperson Todd and Members of the Committee:

My Name is Tom Shakely. I am a resident and voter in Ward 2. I moved to Washington a little more than a year ago from Philadelphia, and have grown to love this place. While I have not been very involved in local politics so far, when I heard about the issue being considered today, I felt a need to speak up from a place of love.

What are we doing here today? We’re not here to discuss sustained delays on the Red Line, or stifling congestion, or rising crime. We are here because some wish to wipe out whatever abortion oversight remains in the District of Columbia, a place which already has the most pro-abortion regulatory regime in the entire country, as far as I know.

We’re hearing some this morning advocate for Planned Parenthood and abortionists in basically religious terms. And we’re hearing about abortion as if it were the highest sacrament of this religious ideology that seeks to reshape American law.

Who is this bill meant to satisfy? What constituency is this measure designed to serve? One of the core parts of this bill, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act” would allow abortionists to sell their products to underage women. And whether we view abortion as a human right, a public good, an economic choice or even a religious right, let’s be clear: abortionists are paid to provide only one product—dead human beings. There is no way around this scientific and medical reality. No abortion is safe, because no abortion permits both patients to thrive.

Who has decided that it is politically important for underage girls—for children—to be targeted and marketed by abortion practitioners? (And whatever DC law says, we can know by common sense that a 14 year old pregnant girl is a child and is not an adult.) We define certain persons as “under age” precisely because we used to recognize that these persons are particularly vulnerable, and deserve a unique protection, from those who would exploit them.

Is it not our responsibility to stand up for, and to do everything we can to protect, those who need it most? And if we can’t recognize that underage girls—that our little sisters, that our nieces, that our daughters—don’t deserve protection, we should have enough humility to remain silent today.

Empowering mothers and fathers to play a role in the decision over whether their child should abort their grandchild cuts to the heart of pro-patient, pro-family, pro-child law and policy. How can the District hope to have strong families, strong households, and strong neighborhoods if it severs the bonds of relationship between related persons?

But let’s step back. Why would a minor attempt to obtain an abortion, or why an abortion would be sought on her behalf? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children underscores that the average age of sex trafficking victims is 15 years old. We’re talking about a 15 year old—or younger—child. We’re talking about a victim of human trafficking. We’re talking about a type of slavery.

We’re confronted by this girl. She may as well be here standing beside us. She’s 15 years old. She’s being trafficked as a sex worker. She becomes pregnant as a consequence of her abuse. And now, today, if the District enacts this legislation, her abuser will be empowered to bring her to an abortion center precisely in order to erase any evidence of his crimes.

I cannot believe the District would rather empower human traffickers than patients themselves, alongside their mothers and fathers, in exercising authentic conscience rights.

Today’s legislation would strength neither reproductive health nor patient protections. It would strength the interests of an abortion lobby whose own amoral interest in expanding its customer base would ultimately serve to further human exploitation and grave harm to vulnerable persons.

If we’re truly concerned about fostering a hopeful future for women and children who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and who feel there are no obvious solutions, we can do far better.

Democratic Gov. Robert Casey said “it’s less a question of when life begins than when love begins. We can do better than this loveless culture.

Alienated America

I listened to Tim Carney’s appearance with Kathryn Jean Lopez recently, where he speaks at New York’s Sheen Center for Thought & Culture on his latest book, “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse:”

He references Chris Arnade’s work over the past few years in chronicling the parts of America that those of us in cities are increasingly alienated from, and over the course of the conversation addresses why he believes some communities went hard for Trump, and why others went hard the other way.

In short, communities where life was basically good or great had no reason to deviate from the status quo (Hillary Clinton), but for the many communities where life is not great or downright terrible, it was time to break the system. This is to riff off the Flight 93 thesis, and it’s also to echo Chris Arnade’s conclusions from years among the alienated after a career among the comparative elite.

Great ‘O’ Antiphons

Chad Pecknold writes on Advent’s “Great ‘O’ Antiphons”:

These Great Antiphons help us to prepare a place for Jesus Christ, so that He might lay upon the straw of all our desires

The neighborhoods which dot the Potomac River are brightly lit now. Christmas lights seem to appear steadily throughout the weeks of Advent. How they appear is mostly hidden from view. Some homes are almost impossibly illuminated, replete with inflatable snowmen, minions, or, more tastefully, nutcrackers. Many surely light up their homes as a kind of manufactured anticipation, a secular advent for restless desire. Yet for others, the external lights are but signs of an interior hope.

For many centuries, the Church has spent this last week of Advent illuminating the heart by those interior lights called the Great “O” Antiphons. They begin tonight, and you can participate in them. If you do, they will enlighten the rooflines of your soul as they have done since the fifth century (according to Boethius) and certainly since the eighth century.

The Great “O” Antiphons — named for that perfect letter with which each antiphon begins — are recited or chanted before and after the Magnifcat at Vespers from December 17-23. Seven antiphons for the seven last days of Advent are filled with ancient longing for Christ.

Wikipedia: “Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:”

17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

18 December: O Adonai (O Lord)
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

23 December: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Advising abortion based upon a guess

Gina Christian reports on the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia’s 38th Annual Stand Up for Life Dinner, which took place last month in Philadelphia:

When Rachel Guy was just 22 weeks old, several doctors urged her mother to have an abortion.

They explained that a “chromosomal abnormality” would very likely leave Rachel blind and deaf.

Guy’s parents advised that abortion violated their deeply held religious beliefs, and sought out a new team of physicians who supported their decision to bring their baby to term. Arriving via Caesarean section, and with a birth weight of just over one pound, Guy spent five and a half months in neonatal intensive care.

Now a young adult with full faculties of sight and hearing, Guy recently shared her life story at a major gathering of the area’s pro-life organizations.

Guy was the keynote speaker of the 38th annual “Stand Up for Life Dinner” held Nov. 24 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel in Center City.

Sponsored by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the event drew more than 1,250 attendees, including dozens of high school and college students who were honored during a “roll call” of represented Catholic schools by Father Christopher Walsh, chairman of the Pro-Life Union’s board and master of ceremonies for the dinner.

Father Walsh, the pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia, welcomed guests by showing images of babies that had been assisted by the Pro-Life Union’s member agencies during the past year. Among them, Philadelphia-based Guiding Star Ministries, which now partners with archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, has cared for about 240 single pregnant women since its opening in 1992, said Father Walsh.

He added that more than 400 calls and texts had been exchanged last year through the Pro-Life Union’s pregnancy hotline (484-451-8104), and he urged attendees to keep the number handy.

“God might be using you to save a life,” he said.

I had been familiar with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia through my family, and it was Fr. Chris Walsh who first invited me to join the board of the Pro-Life Union. One of the people I’ve met along the way has been Dr. Monique Ruberu, whose witness to human life is incredible:

Dr. Monique Ruberu, a Montgomery County-based obstetrician and gynecologist, echoed Guy’s observation by sharing a painful example from her own medical training.

While still in her residency, Ruberu was asked by a professor and mentor to assist with an abortion. After reminding him that her beliefs would not permit her to perform the procedure, she allowed the professor to convince her the abortion was necessary due to a “fetal anomaly,” and she would not directly participate but only provide confirmation that the procedure had been completed.

Speaking through tears, Ruberu said she was tasked with “putting together the pieces of this child” to ensure it had been fully removed from the mother’s womb.

“I stood there and put the small arms and legs and body back together,” said Ruberu. “And with tears pouring down my face, I knew then I would never again put anyone in front of God or these sweet, innocent children.”

Now a board member of the Pro-Life Union, Ruberu speaks extensively in support of the pro-life movement, and in 2018 co-founded Sidewalk Servants, whose members volunteer one or more hours per month to pray and to offer pro-life resources to women visiting abortion centers.

Personality differences

Scott Barry Kaufman writes on sex differences in personality:

At the broad level, we have traits such as extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness. But when you look at the specific facets of each of these broad factors, you realize that there are some traits that males score higher on (on average), and some traits that females score higher on (on average), so the differences cancel each other out. This canceling out gives the appearance that sex differences in personality don’t exist when in reality they very much do exist.

For instance, males and females on average don’t differ much on extraversion. However, at the narrow level, you can see that males on average are more assertive (an aspect of extraversion) whereas females on average are more sociable and friendly (another aspect of extraversion). So what does the overall picture look like for males and females on average when going deeper than the broad level of personality?

On average, males tend to be more dominant, assertive, risk-prone, thrill-seeking, tough-minded, emotionally stable, utilitarian, and open to abstract ideas. Males also tend to score higher on self-estimates of intelligence, even though sex differences in general intelligence measured as an ability are negligible [2]. Men also tend to form larger, competitive groups in which hierarchies tend to be stable and in which individual relationships tend to require little emotional investment. In terms of communication style, males tend to use more assertive speech and are more likely to interrupt people (both men and women) more often– especially intrusive interruptions– which can be interpreted as a form of dominant behavior.

…In contrast, females, on average, tend to be more sociable, sensitive, warm, compassionate, polite, anxious, self-doubting, and more open to aesthetics. On average, women are more interested in intimate, cooperative dyadic relationships that are more emotion-focused and characterized by unstable hierarchies and strong egalitarian norms. Where aggression does arise, it tends to be more indirect and less openly confrontational. Females also tend to display better communication skills, displaying higher verbal ability and the ability to decode other people’s nonverbal behavior. Women also tend to use more affiliative and tentative speech in their language, and tend to be more expressive in both their facial expressions and bodily language (although men tend to adopt a more expansive, open posture). On average, women also tend to smile and cry more frequently than men, although these effects are very contextual and the differences are substantially larger when males and females believe they are being observed than when they believe they are alone.

Alex Tabarrok highlights the above and underscores a key point, which is that “personality differences between the sexes are large in all cultures but ‘for all of these personality effects the sex differences tend to be larger– not smaller– in more individualistic, gender-egalitarian countries.'”

A lot of this is what Jordan Peterson has highlighted over the past few years. And he’s been vilified for doing so.

Dramatic Key Bridge run

Great run after work last night, from Georgetown across the Key Bridge and up past Clarendon and then back down past our old office, through Rosslyn, and back home. It was raining and foggy, and the Potomac was totally blanketed by the fog. It was the first time I couldn’t seen the Washington Monument from the Key Bridge—and I couldn’t really see more than a few dozen feet past the bridge on the way into Virginia. Dramatic, fun conditions for a run in weather that didn’t feel as cold as it really was.

Here’s a live photo I took with my iPhone on the way home that gives a better sense of the rain. Twitter let me turn it into a GIF when I tweeted it:

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Americans and spiritual illiteracy

Daniel Cox and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux write:

Millennials may be the symbols of a broader societal shift away from religion, but they didn’t start it on their own. Their parents are at least partly responsible for a widening generational gap in religious identity and beliefs; they were more likely than previous generations to raise their children without any connection to organized religion. According to the AEI survey, 17 percent of millennials said that they were not raised in any particular religion compared with only five percent of Baby Boomers. And fewer than one in three (32 percent) millennials say they attended weekly religious services with their family when they were young, compared with about half (49 percent) of Baby Boomers.

A parent’s religious identity (or lack thereof) can do a lot to shape a child’s religious habits and beliefs later in life. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that regardless of the religion, those raised in households in which both parents shared the same religion still identified with that faith in adulthood. For instance, 84 percent of people raised by Protestant parents are still Protestant as adults. Similarly, people raised without religion are less apt to look for it as they grow older — that same Pew study found that 63 percent of people who grew up with two religiously unaffiliated parents were still nonreligious as adults.

But one finding in the survey signals that even millennials who grew up religious may be increasingly unlikely to return to religion. In the 1970s, most nonreligious Americans had a religious spouse and often, that partner would draw them back into regular religious practice. But now, a growing number of unaffiliated Americans are settling down with someone who isn’t religious — a process that may have been accelerated by the sheer number of secular romantic partners available, and the rise of online dating. Today, 74 percent of unaffiliated millennials have a nonreligious partner or spouse…

Andrew Reed and James Matheson, two British ministers who visited America in 1834, wrote that, “America will be great if America is good. If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud.” John Adams famously believed that, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And Benjamin Franklin believed that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” It’s not nothing that Americans are becoming a spiritually illiterate people.

Washington in December

A few scenes from the last few days in Washington, from a walk to Epiphany for morning Mass, a walk to the office, a walk to Saint Matthew the Apostle for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and walks through Georgetown.

Isn’t that a beautiful DC Health ad, by the way? “Protect your loved ones,” urges DC Health, as a child kisses his brother or sister through their mother.