Muse of Rock

Horace Daillion’s “The Muse of Rock” was shared recently by The American Lyceum on Twitter. It is arresting, as if she might wake up and rise from that rock. As if maybe the rock itself carved her from itself in honor of every woman. As if there’s something more solid and permanent about us than our frailty and transience suggests:

Muse of Rock- Horace Daillion 1900.jpg

The Muse of Rock reminded me of what I think is this even greater example of the human form emerging from nature, the Renwick Gallery’s beautiful human arm.

MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed fifty years ago today by an assasin’s bullet to the neck as King stood on his Memphis hotel room balcony. J. Samuel Walker recounts the impact of King’s assassination in Washington in the days the followed:

A crowd began to gather at the corner of 14th and U Streets in Northwest Washington when the news that King had been shot became public. The areas around the east-west corridor of U Street and the north-south corridor of 14th Street had deteriorated since the 1920s and 1930s, but this was still the premier commercial center of black Washington. For about 20 blocks north of U Street, the 14th Street corridor and its offshoots hosted some 300 businesses, plus bars, theaters, and nightclubs.

The 14th and U neighborhood was also the center of black activism in the city; the local offices of black leadership groups were clustered there. In addition to the local SNCC headquarters, the Washington offices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were located in the immediate area. People gravitated toward the intersection when they learned that King had been shot. At the same time, police and civil defense intelligence units moved in to observe the scene. They found that, at first, the “mood of the group was … one of shock and dismay rather than of anger.”

The mood of the crowd became increasingly bitter after the announcement that King had died. Some individuals gathered around a transistor radio to listen to President Johnson’s speech. His appeal for calm was not greeted favorably; one person shouted that King’s death would “mean one thousand Detroits.” …

But the calls for calm and reason soon proved to be futile. At 9:25 p.m., the first acts of vandalism and looting occurred. A window at the Peoples Drug Store that had closed at Carmichael’s request was smashed. At about the same time, a 15-year-old boy broke the glass of the front door of the Republic Theatre just down the street. A window of a Safeway market at 14th and Chapin Streets, five blocks north of U, was shattered and people immediately entered and began looting. One block south of the Safeway, a woman used her body to pummel the window of a television and appliance store until it broke. Carmichael and other SNCC workers tried to stop would-be looters, but their efforts could save the store’s inventory for only a limited time. …

As the attacks on the police and firefighters, most of whom were white, indicated, the participants in the riot demonstrated ample measures of racial hostility. The disorders on 14th Street were not a race riot in the sense that they produced a series of direct, violent confrontations between blacks and whites. This had occurred at other times in Washington, most notably in a fierce clash between races in 1919 that resulted in thirty deaths and countless injuries. But if the outburst on the night of King’s death was not a race riot, it clearly brought to the surface black resentment toward white society. “This is it, baby. The shit is going to hit the fan now,” yelled one rioter shortly after the breaking of store windows and looting began. At this juncture, Stokely Carmichael tried once again to cool passion, but the turmoil quickly gained momentum.

Bonnie Perry, who was 13 at the time of the riot and an attentive witness to what went on, later told an interviewer that some residents participated “because they just wanted to loot.” She suggested, however, that those people were exceptions. “Most people did it because they were angry and were frustrated with the country. Frustrated and angry that Martin Luther King had been assassinated and frustrated that there was nothing,” she recalled. “It was like there was no hope for the future.”

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput reflects today on the anniversary of MLK’s assassination:

We too easily reduce the memory of our nation’s great and good persons to a liturgy of public pieties. These pieties lose force as the years go by. Not so with the legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Generations have grown up since his 1968 assassination that can never fully grasp the measure of his achievements or the scope of the positive changes to society he helped bring about, because they have no experience of the America in which he lived out his ministry.

He was a man of civility, nonviolence, intelligence, and respect for his opponents; but also a man with a tireless zeal for justice, inspired and directed by his Christian faith.

America was made better by his life. …

I’m on Amtrak on the way to Washington as I write this, where I’ll be spending the rest of the week at Catholic Uniersity’s fiftieth anniversary Humanae Vitae symposium, commemorating Pope Paul VI’s affirmation of Christian moral teaching on sex, marriage, and human life. While I’m in Washington I’m planning to visit the MLK Memorial on the National Mall for the first time. Figures like Lincoln and MLK come along only rarely and at apparently necessary historical moments. I’m grateful to be living in a time when there are still so many alive with living memory of MLK’s teaching and witness.

What Newsweek knew

There’s this debate in America, or what I think is often a sort of pretend debate, about the moral status of the human life that’s in the womb of a pregnant woman. That is, about what precise it is that a woman is pregnant with.

We’re left with two troublesome factions in American life, neither of which do a good enough job stating what they’re after, but one of which tends to purposely confuse in its use of language by making an issue that is obviously about the value of human life into a question of the choice of the strong triumphing over the contextually weak.

The common sense civic debate Americans should be having, which boils down to how one of the wealthiest and most privileged societies in human history should be creating a wide and broad social safety net to ensure that no unexpectedly pregnant woman is encouraged to abort her child because we’re able to provide her with a continuum of care that ensures her life is not “over” due to that child—from incredible welfare benefits to education/workforce training, to child stipends until the child is of a certain age, to housing, etc. But we don’t have that conversation, and that’s largely a scandal and fault of Planned Parenthood and other “choice” advocates who in practice offer only one choice: abortion. They receive more than a billion in public funding annually, and pro-choice attitudes dominate in the media, and yet they’re not using their power and influence to broaden the public debate about the range of options that should be offered to pregnant woman. At minimum, that’s a failure of imagination.

And in the meantime, Americans sometimes debate about what exactly is in the womb. Is it a person deserving of legal protections our constitution claims to offer? Or does is have a lesser moral or legal status? Are 20 week limits on abortion, when we believe the creature can feel pain, for instance, extreme? That’s what we’re debating today.

The development of 4D ultrasound, and of modern medical technologies, help us see into the womb in ways that were impossible when Roe v. Wade was decided. We know more today than Americans could have then. That’s what I grew up hearing.

Yet here’s what Newsweek featured on its cover in 1975:

1975-03 Newsweek Cover

That’s a human life at four months. And it was featured on the cover of a major news magazine months after Roe v. Wade was handed down. Do we know less in 2018 than what Newsweek knew in 1975? We know what’s in the womb, and it seems like we’ve always known. Psychologically, biologically, scientifically we know what abortion does. The questions are all political and cultural and social.

Why we don’t at least mandate that Planned Parenthood be funded to aggressively promote adoption and women’s education and workforce training and childhood stipends, etc. as much as it does abortion is anyone’s guess.

Ten big ideas

Brent Beshore recently this on Twitter: “Recently asked, ‘What are the ten biggest ideas that changed your life?’ Great/hard question. Here’s where I landed…” And here’s what Brent shared, which I’m copying here in case he deletes his Twitter at some point:

1) Imago Dei: Every person is inherently valuable independent of behavior and beliefs. Everyone matters. Treat people accordingly, without exception.

2) Rationality: In the moment, people act rationally, always. The question is what information, preferences, time horizon, and biases came into play? Removes ability to write-off people/behavior. Forces learning and empathy.

3) Meaningful = Hard: If something worthwhile appears easy, it means I got lucky. Or, I’ve never done it. Crucial to setting opportunity costs, evoking gratitude, suppressing envy, and cheering others on.

4) Base Rate: The average of how others do is the mostly likely indicator of my future performance. I want to get into situations where the base rate is attractive.

5) Messy: Life is messy. People are messy. Business is messy. Relationships are messy. I’m messy. Messiness should never be surprising. Give myself and others grace.

6) Margin of Safety/Redundancy: Stuff happens. Expect it and be prepared. Applies to virtually every area of life and far beyond investing — engineering, organizational operations, relationships, health, personal finances, etc.

7) Serving vs. Served: The great paradox of life is self-sacrificial service. More I give, with no expectation of reciprocity, the better life goes for others and me. Counterintuitive and countercultural.

8) Non-Linearity: I expect orderly, sequential outcomes. I get compounding, with unexpectedly positive and negative outcomes. Expect the unexpected. Get better at ball-parking nonlinear results.

9) Forgotten: In 100 years, no one will know my name. And certainly, no one will know me and I won’t know them. Living for fame and recognition is like chasing the wind. I try re-read Ecclesiastes monthly.

10) Invert: Avoiding failure is a heck of a lot easier than trying to be successful. Understand predictable points of failure (probability + magnitude) and plan against them. And don’t worry, failure will still come often.

A good list.

Administrative universities

Ron Srigley writes a powerful indictment of the administrative class of the modern university. “Whose University Is It Anyway?” is a long, worthwhile, well-researched piece. And it resonates with much of my experience and frustrations of a decade ago at Penn State, and with the secondhand experience of my friends and family within college and university life. Places that were founded for the wide-ranging pursuit of knowledge as a good in itself, and the ability to recognize truth, virtue, etc. are now places run by an administrative class that’s less concerned with those inevitably unordered aims and more concerned with a culture of efficiency that brooks no critique that would threaten its own growth and development:

Administrators control the modern university. The faculty have “fallen,” to use Benjamin Ginsberg’s term. It’s an “all-administrative” institution now. [1] Spending on administrators and administration exceeds spending on faculty, administrators out-number faculty by a long shot, and administrative salaries and benefit packages, particularly those of presidents and other senior managers, have skyrocketed over the last 10 years. Even more telling perhaps, students themselves increasingly resemble administrators more than professors in their ambitions and needs. Safety, comfort, security, quality services, first-class accommodations, guaranteed high grades, institutional brand, better job placements, the market value of the credential — these are the things one hears students demanding these days, not truth, justice, and intelligence. [2] The traditional language of “professors” and “students” still exists, though “service provider” and “consumer” are making serious bids to replace them. The principles of collegial governance and joint decision-making are still on the books, but they are no longer what the institution is about or how it works.

The revolution is over and the administrators have won. But the persistence of traditional structures and language has led some to think that the fight over the institution is now just beginning. This is a mistake. As with most revolutions, open conflict occurs only after real power has already changed hands. In France, for instance, the bourgeoisie were able to seize control of the regime because in a sense they already had it. The same is true of the modern university. …

Personally, I’m less strident than the activists but more active than the pessimists. My own proposal is thus old-fashioned but also mildly seditious: I suggest we think about this change in the university in order to reach some understanding of what it means. Then we can act as we see fit, though without any illusions about consequences.

In order to do this I propose a test. A favorite trope among the administrative castes is accountability. People must be held accountable, they tell us, particularly professors. Well, let’s take them at their word and hold them accountable. How have they done with the public trust since having assumed control of the university? …

In the traditional university, professors were “unaccountable.” The university was a sacred space where they were at liberty to pursue with students and colleagues their fields of inquiry without coercion or interference. This doesn’t mean they were free without qualification, of course. Professors were deeply accountable, but in a sense that went far beyond the reach, ambition, and perhaps even the interests of the administrative caste — they were accountable to discover and then to tell the truth, and to encourage their students to do the same. Assessing their abilities and accomplishments in this regard was a matter of judgment and so could not be quantified; it could be exercised only by those capable of it. A mechanism was therefore introduced to ensure this judgment was reached before the university committed to a faculty member permanently. After roughly 15 years of undergraduate and postgraduate study, and then a long period of careful professional observation and assessment, in most universities lasting five to six years, only those professors who proved themselves worthy were granted tenure and allowed to continue their teaching and research in pursuit of this beautiful goal

Administrators, on the other hand, were always held accountable precisely because their responsibilities were administrative in nature and therefore amenable to measurement and regular public audit. They were responsible to ensure the activities of students and professors were not interfered with and to manage the institution’s financial affairs. They were, in this sense, stewards of the sacred space, not its rulers.

In the contemporary university these roles have been reversed. Faculty members are the ones who are now accountable, but no longer to their peers and students and no longer regarding mastery of their subjects. Instead, they are accountable to administrators, who employ an increasingly wide array of instruments and staff to assess their productivity and measure their performance, all of which are now deemed eminently quantifiable. In place of judgment regarding the quality of their work we now have a variety of “outcomes” used as measures of worth. Student evaluations and enrollments (i.e., popularity), learning as determined by “rubrics,” quantity of publications, amount of research dollars, extent of social “impact” are the things that count now. In other words, only things you can quantify and none of which require judgment.

The administrators who protested so vociferously the lack of accountability of professors have now assumed the position themselves. Administrators are virtually untouchable today. Their value to the institution is assumed to be so great that it cannot be measured and cannot be subject to critical assessment. This explains in part their metastatic growth within the institution. …

Ask about virtually any problem in the university today and the solution proposed will inevitably be administrative. Why? Because we think administrators, not professors, guarantee the quality of the product and the achievement of institutional goals. But how is that possible in an academic environment in which knowledge and understanding are the true goals? Without putting too fine a point on it, it’s because they aren’t the true goals any longer. With the exception of certain key science and technology programs in which content proficiency is paramount, administrative efficiency and administrative mindedness are the true goals of the institution. …

When it comes to the real mandate of the modern university, boards of governors, government, and industry are all in agreement. That mandate is well known to all of us who live and work within the non-ivied walls: more industry partnerships, more technology, more STEM subjects, more money for research and development in these areas, more administrative review bodies and measures, more students, more student services, and more student satisfaction. And because the administrative university is a zero-sum game, there is a reverse side to the mandate: fewer tenured faculty, less faculty control over curricula, fewer humanities and pure science programs, less support for humanities and pure science research, and the erosion of collegial governance.

There is no serious debate about this mandate among the key players in the university administrative hierarchy, so the assertion that administrators are accountable to it in the way they insist faculty must be is a red herring. The administrators are the mandate. …

If you think I overstate the consequences of this erosion of the university curriculum, consider the 2016 US presidential debates as barometers of the culture. Many people were horrified by the debates, regardless of partisan interests. But if you want to appreciate the full extent of the horror and understand just how far we’ve fallen, watch the first ever televised presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. The extent of our new barbarism becomes immediately apparent in the contrast and it’s quite a shock, and this without even claiming that Kennedy and Nixon were themselves in any way high-water marks of political culture. If you think this decline has nothing to do with the decline of genuine liberal arts education, through which students are taught to think deeply and meaningfully about the real human problems of government, justice and reason, and the rise of the all-administrative university in which they are not, think again. As one Canadian university president I know said to a colleague who had expressed an interest in Montesquieu’s political thought, “Why study him? He’s dead.” So much for history. So much for political wisdom. And so much for magnanimity and breadth of understanding. We now have intellectual philistines settling the matter of what our children need to know. Where in this miasma of deculturation will they ever find an image of a genuine statesperson or citizen or of a truly just human being? Nowhere, if the modern administrative university has its way. …

Four areas of the all-administrative university stand out for comment: students, the university curriculum, university governance, and administrative salaries.

If you speak with university officials, you’ll tend to find that the ones who speak with the most confidence and least apprehension are administrators. And that’s how you can tell where the real power resides in that university, because those with power tend to be confident and self-assured. Right up until they’ve lost it.

‘Living Wills’ should foster a patient’s will to live

Bobby Schindler and I write at National Catholic Register on Italy’s recent adoption of Advance Directives, or “Living Wills”:

Advance Directives, to the extent that they enable a mentally and physically competent person to outline their authentic and life-affirming medical wishes in advance of situations where their judgement may be compromised, can be good and useful instruments for ensuring that health care be life-affirming and not needlessly extraordinary in nature. What makes Italy’s Advance Directive law so troublesome is its embrace of a euthanasia logic that permits, or even encourages, patients to fatally deny themselves food and water, and further its aggression and violence against the conscience rights of physicians and health care workers whose right to dissent is not recognized. Every one of those more than 700 physicians who appealed for Eluana’s right to basic treatment may one day be forced to choose between intentionally bringing about the death of another Eluana, on the one hand, or being branded an extremist and consequently forced out of medicine, on the other.

Whether one is Catholic, or Protestant, or secular and unreligious, it represents a distortion of medicine’s purpose to conflate Advance Directives and the principle of medical planning with the ability to self-deny or to be denied food and water, which represents neither a costly nor an exotic form of care.

At the true end of life, the human body becomes incapable of metabolizing food and water, which is ultimately why the issue of “food and water” – as if it were an “end of life” issue by its nature – is disingenuous. Characterizing food and water as necessarily an “end of life” issue is a distortion of the reality facing millions of persons reliant on feeding tubes throughout the world each year. A young and recovering alcoholic, for instance, may be reliant on food and water by feeding tube for many months, or even years. In no traditional sense would this person be facing a fundamentally “end of life” issue, yet legislation like Italy’s encourages both the public and the patient to consider such situations in a much more fatalistic way—in a way almost certain to degrade a vulnerable patient’s will to live.

In societies that still officially oppose suicide and recognize the need to offer crisis counseling and emergency support to men and women captured by often fleeting moments of suicidal thinking, we should take the same approach of offering life-affirming care to medically vulnerable patients. Indeed, the daily lives of vulnerable patients may in fact be more consistently grinding on their will to live, especially in cultures like Italy’s whose law now rhetorically implies questions like, “Why not put a permanent end to anxiety? To periodic suffering? To moments of discomfort? To the need for rehabilitation?”

Italy’s parliament should do better by allowing for advance directive planning that fosters a will to live among vulnerable patients, continues to proscribe intentional life-taking, and cultivates life-affirming clinical environments where the conscience rights of physicians and health care workers are paramount in service of medicine’s basic purpose to cure, heal and comfort.

Read the entire piece.

Passing along what’s inherited

F.L. Lucas is an unremembered man who wrote this in an out-of-print book:

It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward; who guard and maintain the ancient values, even if they do not conquer new; whose inconspicuous triumph it is to pass on what they inherited from their fathers, unimpaired and undiminished, to their sons. Enough, for almost all of us, if we can hand on the torch, and not let it down; content to win the affection, if it may be, of a few who know us and to be forgotten when they in their turn have vanished. The destiny of mankind is not governed wholly by its “stars.”

This reminded me of the dedication by W.H.H. Murray that appears in The Legends of the Nittany Valley:

It is not likely that much, if indeed any part, of what I may write will be granted a permanent place in the literature of my country, nor am I stirred to effort by any ambition or dream that it may. I shall be well satisfied if, by what I write, some present entertainment be afforded to the reader, a love of nature inculcated, and encouragement given to a more manly or womanly life.

Stars shine in the firmament of space. We don’t think about that firmament; it’s just there. But it’s what stars need to do their thing, and so it seems to be with people.