Sunday, March 26, 2006

Thoughts

- After dropping like a rock to the bottom of my NCAA bracket pool after the first two rounds, I stopped paying attention. I then somehow managed to get six right for the Elite Eight and bounced back up to near the top of my pool, so I started paying attention again, because UCLA's win meant I had a chance to still win everything. I should have stayed indifferent, however, because they were the only one I got right for the Final Four after Villanova pretty much stank this afternoon. Oh well. It turns out that under one of the remaining eight scenarios, I could still possibly win. Not bad, not bad.

- I was reflecting this weekend on movies that would have been perfectly enjoyable had there not been gratuitous liberal tripe inserted. The immediate cause of this reflection was a showing on one of the movie channels of 2004's King Arthur. If you grant the initial premise of this being a pseudo-historical drama more along the lines of Gladiator than First Knight (in setting and theme), the movie is pretty decent for its genre -- it's well-shot, features nice brooding from Clive Owen and Ioan Gruffudd as Arthur and Lancelot, gives Stellan Skarsgard a chance to be an understatedly intimidating invader, and has a good soundtrack. But then the writer has to go and make the Catholic Church more the villians than the invading Saxons, with a slimy bishop and bizarre tributes to the heretic Pelagius, who is here reimagined as some early champion of freedom and equality that the Church cruelly repressed. For one thing, I don't think the Church had achieved the kind of status and authority the movie suggests it has, if it's supposed to be taking place less than one hundred years after Constantine; even if it's supposed to be in the sixth century, that would still be the case. And if it is the sixth century, then they're off on the timing of Pelagius's life -- so why bother to introduce him, again? Forget some of the other anachronisms (like warrior princess Guinevere) -- this was just an annoying intrusion, and puts me off the movie every time I come across it. I think I'm the kind of person who would be part of the target audience for a film like this, as a fan of Braveheart, etc., but Braveheart didn't go out of its way to insert postmodern skepticism or the kind of revisionism that would really grate. (Okay, yes, I know that "FREEDOM!" wasn't really the rallying cry of the 12th century either, but the historical aesthetics and mentality were still presented much more realistically than in Arthur.)

In any event, along these lines, I think I'm also a person who would be part of the target audience for films like Syriana or Constant Gardener, given that I like political/military-type international thrillers, but I'm not as likely to go see them, no matter how nice the production values, if they go out of their way to make America, American corporations, George Bush, or just plain mean conservatives the sinister villians, when that's unnecessary. (Also see The Day After Tomorrow, a perfectly fun popcorn movie that can't resist taking shots at Dick Cheney while hyping global warming.) So much for that.

- It's still not a good time to be buying a house in DC, but that also means it's not a great time to be renting. So what to do? I resigned myself to paying almost three times as much for an apartment here than in Columbus when I moved here, so I suppose that perusing the real estate section or reconsidering the decision to rent are merely pointless exercises. I like where I live; and that's good, because there aren't many other options!

- Fr. Neuhaus reprints an "out of the mouths of babes" list from Catholic schoolchildren. They're pretty funny: "A Christian should have only one spouse. This is called monotony." :)

Friday, March 17, 2006

From a Dublin lass

Happy St Patrick's Day! I hope everyone has a fun and very Irish day. I actually have a full day today, including work, of course, and a trip to H & R Block this evening to sort out my taxes, since I finally caved and this is when they could fit me in. I assume I will also be busy today falling even farther down on my NCAA bracket (I finished tied for last yesterday). So, it's not the best day for me to take advantage of the dispensation Cardinal McCarrick gave for our archdiocese to be allowed to eat meat today, since I don't think I'll even have much time for dinner. Oh well. I will find some Irish music to play -- I did receive a nice CD last month that induces instant nostalgia for Notre Dame every time it's played -- and be sure to wear green. Also, possibly, dance a little jig :) From the green and lovely lanes of Killashandra . . .

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Why some choices shouldn't exist

Tough article today about abortion of disabled children in the NYT. The article discusses the concept of "wrongful birth" lawsuits (about which I've written before here). These allow for parents to sue their doctors, under a subset of malpractice theory, for the physical costs of raising disabled children, if the doctors didn't give the parents information about the children's illnesses or deformities "in time" -- that is, in time to abort the child while it was still legal. Once the baby's born, there's no legal way to do away with it by, say, holding a pillow over its face; rather, the only way to get away with not having to raise the child is to kill it before birth, by pill or by vacuum or scissors. The injustice of being prevented from doing that latter, according to developing law in many states, is a wrong for which parents should be compensated. Life for their children is a burden they -- the parents -- should never have borne.

That's a harsh way of phrasing it, perhaps, and the charge might be leveled I am unsympathetic to the real difficulties faced by people like the article's author, Elizabeth Weil, who aborted her unborn baby when told he would likely have multiple genetic deformities. She still mourns him, she says, but doesn't regret the abortion. After all, most parents think they will love their children unconditionally, but "most of us would prefer not to have that unconditional-love relationship with a certain subset of kids." I am sympathetic to the terrible fear that must certainly arise when confronted with a difficult prenatal diagnosis -- what kind of emotions must one feel at that news? -- but I do not believe the law should ever legitimize such terrible fears (that a parent could not love a child) or dark desires (to be rid of the responsibility of caring for a child by being rid of the child) by allowing us the option to abort our own children. All human beings, no matter how short or difficult our lives, deserve the best chance at life -- deserve at least a chance at life, because we have intrinsic worth as human beings. If we are parents, we have a basic duty to recognize and value that intrinsic worth of our children, no matter how difficult. None of us is truly capable of unconditional love, anyway (how many parents of perfectly healthy children really feel love for their children at all times in all circumstances?) -- only God is capable of perfect love. Our inability to express that love towards others is a failing, a consequence of sin, but our responsibility to love exists nonetheless. We do the best we can. We must, because that's all we can do if we don't wish to sink into a devaluation of all our lives, even our own. We try to love as we are loved. If we deny that Love, we participate in evil. Love is hard sometimes, and we rarely know how much so until it's tested -- but though we're not perfect and we often fall short, what we can never legitimately do is deny love in the ultimate sense: by destroying life.

An aside. Yesterday I drove by the Planned Parenthood around 16th and L. A circle of protestors stood in front of the clinic quietly praying for an end to the violence done women and children there, while "pro-choice escorts" stood hostilely by. I felt cold passing by. No matter how well-intentioned the clinic workers may be, their work of abetting and performing abortion is a real and moral evil. The prayerful protestors are waging a spiritual battle against the force behind an ideology that promotes what should be unthinkable for the most vulnerable among us. The NYT's Weil notes that some argue that "terminating impaired children drags us into a moral abyss." Terminating any children at all drags us into a moral abyss. Forty-five million children later, we are surely there already.

I return to the article. Weil discusses different aspects of this issue of abortion of disabled children, and I appreciate that while she does not manage to step away entirely from pro-choice-speak (of fetuses and choice), she does present many of the objections to prenatal testing in general and the pressures that "wrongful birth" lawsuits are creating for doctors to push "termination" as an option with difficult pregnancies:

David Wasserman, a bioethicist at the University of Maryland, wrote a paper with Asch titled "Where Is the Sin in Synecdoche?" in which the two argue that prenatal testing is morally suspect because the system leads people to reduce fetuses to a single trait, their impairment. "Since time immemorial people have felt fear and aversion toward people with impairments, but these tests legitimize those fears," Wasserman says. Parenthood, according to Wasserman, is and should remain a gamble.

Opposing this, of course, is the plain fact that a healthy newborn is the best outcome — what every parent wants. No reasonable person would choose sickness over health, and we seem to have the ability to choose. So how to proceed? Much hand wringing goes on about a sci-fi "Gattaca"-like future in which terminating kids with Down syndrome leads to selecting for only highly intelligent, physically powerful blue-eyed children. Yet in truth we are not at risk of creating a society of such supposedly perfect human beings any time soon.

That's too easy a dismissal, and Weil soon changes the subject further. But I would push her: we are creating a society of fewer disabled children - not because of cures, but because we're getting rid of them (Weil quotes Leon Kass as terming this 'curing the illness by preventing the patient'). And how far does that go? Weil does ask: is it okay to abort deaf children? Blind? She doesn't consider: even if that society of "supposedly perfect" people isn't here yet or imminent, isn't its creation problematic even in theory? Are there things we should be doing to re-value life now so that it never comes about? Why should we have this power over life and death only at certain times? If children -- or adults -- unforeseeably contract difficult illnesses or suffer crippling injuries at some point in life after birth, should we be able to get rid of them because of our fears we won't be able to love them enough -- or because of intense aversions to having any responsibilities to care for them?

Abortion is an ultimate denial of love and hope, of the possibility of either. Whether it is committed out of genuine fear or confusion or desperation (or occasionally callousness), it does violence to what should be one of the most profound loves that many people may ever experience, that of a parent for a child, since instead of caring for their child and fighting to save it, they choose to end their child's life before it ever has a chance. Lawsuits that grant compensation in cases where a doctor has not caused the actual injuries to the child do almost as much as abortion itself to damage the parent-child love, by encouraging parents to continue to think of their children as burdens they would be better off not knowing. One woman who sued in such a situation said her daughter was "the best thing that could ever have happened to us" -- yet in her lawsuit she repeatedly asserted that if given more knowledge, she would never have had her in the first place. Weil's principal interviewee "loves [her son] deeply," is now involved in disabled communities and says hi to all the other disabled children at her son's group care home, yet still asserts she would have chosen not to have her son. If only she had known!

Weil does a decent job of wrestling with the issues involved in these cases in her article, given that "we seem to have the ability to choose." But I would argue that human beings do not have a natural right to make such choices, for we do not have any legitimate right to decide which others' lives have sufficient value to allow them to continue living. That our current legal regime requires the allowance of this "ability" makes it profoundly flawed. It, not disabled children -- nor any children at all -- should be what is rightly terminated.

Eggman, taxman, whatever

I feel unbelievably frustrated right now, and am ready to sign up for the flat tax. Anthony Williams's letter to taxpayers says, "Thank you for supporting the District of Columbia." Well, Mr. Williams seems like a nice man, but he's not welcome. I just finished working out my federal and Maryland state taxes with the help of TaxCut (the H&R Block software), and that went sort of all right, but left me owing $500 to the state of Maryland (despite an awful lot being withheld already) and without the option of filing as a part-year resident of D.C. (not supported by the software). So I go online to figure out how to file that, and the online option at dc.gov doesn't work, so I sort through the form options. I'm not even sure I was a part-year resident of D.C. last summer, as my permanent address didn't change, but some of my taxes were withheld in D.C. So how do I pay (or get some money back, since again, quite a lot was withheld already?). Heck if I know. There's a non-resident refund request form, but I'm not sure how to mark if I was a resident or not -- I had a separate mailing address from where I actually lived, and that was in a dorm for ten weeks where I had no fixed address, and my permanent address was in Ohio at the time (where I have no income, so I wasn't filing). I suppose I can go pay someone to tell me all this, but I'd rather not have the expense. On the other hand, I'd also rather not have this headache, so we'll see what wins out. In any event, if I get audited, I can truthfully say everything was filed correctly to the best of my knowledge . . . but even with a law degree, my knowledge doesn't appear to consist of much in this regard.

Right, enough with the venting. I suppose I'll figure something out before the 15th.

Monday, March 06, 2006

That was close (again)

I caught most of Saturday's game against DePaul and was happy to see that, for once, the Irish men were able to win a close game. It still came down to the last three seconds, but happily ND was able to finally do what it takes. Good timing, too, as it guarantees us a berth in the Big East tournament -- far from a sure thing just a few weeks ago. The Fieldhouse has the game breakdown.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Texas two-step

Last weekend I was able to visit my sister at her new place in Texas. It was great to be in a part of the country where cowboy hats are unremarkable accessories, and I definitely enjoyed my visit. One highlight had to be a stop at the world's largest honky tonk, Billy Bob's of Ft. Worth. I have to say, I'd never actually been to any other honky tonk before, but I will believe this place's claim to being the largest -- it was huge. I didn't see the actual bull, but I did try a little two-stepping. Do we have one of these places in D.C.? I actually do own a cowboy hat, gotten from the inaugural Black Tie and Boots ball last year, so with a Texan president in town, I bet there is a place you can wear such things here. I shall have to investigate . . . :)

The last laugh

I'm not watching the Oscars tonight; I don't feel like being lectured by the likes of George Clooney. I think he'd do better to stick to movies like Out of Sight or Ocean's Eleven . . . but I guess he can bask more in the approval of his peers if he puts forth challenging fare about how it's really the CIA manipulating everything and stopping progress in the Middle East. I also don't care to witness all the self-congratulation that will doubtless accompany any awards for Brokeback Mountain (assuming it wins them, as generally expected). An odd film that drew criticism and praise from pro-gay critics (for not being gay enough, or for being the rewarding, complex, stirring love story that would really stick it to middle America by showing how beautiful gay love can be) as well as criticism and some praise from more conservative critics (for selling a pro-gay message, or for showing some of the complexity and real damage that can be done by living this lifestyle) -- this movie was based on a story that read like some of the more average fanfic I've come across over the years (though it did have some surprising elements). It may be beautifully shot and well-acted, but I see it as being pretty similar to last year's critically-acclaimed Vera Drake, Million Dollar Baby, and The Sea Inside. The critics wouldn't have fallen over themselves to praise these movies if it weren't for their "progressive" subject matter; and I find it disturbing that the critics went out of their way to praise these films as being all about love, when in fact many of the actions portrayed represent a twisted (or misguided) version or even negation of love.

In any event, I'm also miffed by the complete silence afforded last year's most popular film -- by about a hundred million dollar margin -- namely, Revenge of the Sith. The same people who can't gush enough about Peter Jackson's CGI in LOTR and King Kong turn up their noses at the man who really pioneered the kinds of CGI Jackson leaned on -- and George Lucas and his team did it much better. For all its technical achievement and the enduring appeal of its story, Star Wars has been entirely ignored by the Academy because Lucas isn't one of them. He's plotted his own course outside the Hollywood mainstream, so they snub him and his achievements. Well, they can keep churning out Syrianas. George Lucas can have the last laugh.