Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An unlikely sort

Something more uplifting than those last sour thoughts . . . For those who haven't caught it yet, you have to watch this video of Welsh car phone salesman Paul Potts stunning the judges of "Britain's Got Talent" last week with his unlikely talent: singing opera.

The poor man just looks so defeated and dumpy before he starts singing and you can see the judges rolling their eyes . . . but then he proves he can sing. I love watching this transformation. I've been to half a dozen operas, which is enough to appreciate the enormous talent it takes to perform, even though it isn't my favorite kind of music or theatre. It's just nice to see someone succeed with true talent -- gives me goosebumps every time I watch. Potts's second and final, winning performances proved he wasn't a fluke in this case. It's hard to be anything other than happy for him :)

Visual assaults

Has anyone else seen the posters for "Captivity," the latest horror movie? They're plastered all over Metro right now, and feature a closeup of a stereotypically pretty blonde behind a fence or cage, with her mouth open in fear and her eye makeup smeared, with a tear streaking down her face. Apparently the previous poster (which didn't make it to DC, only to New York and L.A.) was even worse, showing the same girl being kidnapped, tortured, and finally killed. It's really disgusting, and I hate that it's hard to avoid seeing these images every day on the way to and from work. I would ask, who in the world is this sick stuff supposed to appeal to -- but we all know the target audience, some subset of teenage/twenty-something guys who have some disordered fascination with seeing ever more inventive tortures depicted, preferably on young, pretty women. I'm aware some of these graphic horror movies involve torture of men, but of course the fact this "torture porn" is equal-opportunity doesn't make things any better. This certain segment of Hollywood keeps churning out dark, twisted films and plastering their images in our faces - and they must be making some money. Just like regular pornography, they're often doing it by crass exploitation and victimization of women, and I would hope all women could agree that this isn't "empowering," it's just sick.

Stephen King, offering quite a few caveats, still is of the opinion that "[s]ure it [these types of movies] makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable." On the other hand, sometimes things that make you uncomfortable have no redeeming value and are actually just bad art.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

Abortion agendas and ironies

The Economist this week prints two letters in response to its recent article looking at world abortion laws. The first, signed by professors from Johns Hopkins and the London School of Hygiene, as well as a Guttmacher Institute representative, decries the "significant economic costs" related to the 19 million illegal abortions estimated to occur each year around the world. "Legal" apparently equals "safe" (never mind that abortion harms plenty of women's health even in countries where it's routine); "illegal" apparently equals "unsafe." The writers note that unsafe abortion costs include "long-term health consequences" including: subfecundity and infertility. I am quite impressed by the researchers' touching concern for women's fecundity and fertility, but I wonder whether any of them has ever noted the irony inherent in their worrying about these things following abortions. The abortions themselves, after all, have a direct and short-term effect on fecundity and fertility every time one is performed, seeing as how actual pregnancies and children are terminated thereby. Indeed, if the writers are concerned with fecundity and fertility, perhaps they might encourage women to carry to term the pregnancies they have already conceived.

Then again, having the children would also impose its "significant economic costs" - so maybe the best answer is to get rid of even more of them. The second letter printed, by one John Bermingham of Denver, observes that the map of countries that prohibit or severely restrict abortion "is almost identical to regions that are distressed from overpopulation." They face "severe social stress, ethnic tensions and civil disorder," and on top of all that they're all going to need food assistance. Bermingham delicately does not spell out the conclusion he means to suggest by his association, but it is clear all the same: legalize abortion, and these poor countries that are essentially welfare queens on the international dole, living in squalor, might just improve their lot just by causing there to be fewer of their citizens. If it's the same man, Bermingham has apparently been involved in pushing liberalized abortion policy for four decades. He used to justify it just on the basis of preventing back alley abortions (the numbers of which used to be -- and often still are -- quite falsely inflated). He seems now to have moved on to general population control rationales. Is that progress? It bothers me that reasonable people might well think so.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lasting a lifetime

Sweet, noncynical article in the Post today about the archdiocese's celebration of married couples at Mass in the Basilica yesterday. 500 couples who had been married at least 25 years each came to renew their vows, and it seems like they all had neat relationships and large families celebrating with them. I had to smile at this couple:

That same attitude has kept Betty and Ray Lankford, 81-year-olds who own a plumbing business on Solomons Island, going during their 62 years of marriage. (Her father predicted it wouldn't last.)

Their only fights, they said, were about the kids.

But they had 10 kids. [So they must have gotten along well enough!]

So, Ray said, they had an agreement. "Never go to bed mad and always kiss and make up," he said. "And when you get up in the morning, say, 'I love you.'"

The last anecdote is about a couple married 63 years tearing up as they restated their vows, the same simple vows used in many Catholic weddings today. What a beautiful model these couples provide by their love and commitment, especially for all married couples just starting out :)

In which I discover social networking

Usually I think I'm pretty Internet-savvy, since I've been on it for so long -- and to such an extent that my family always thought I was kind of weird :) Still, I do miss a lot. I've been posting on and reading various forums and message boards for ages, but never got into the social networking sites, since I think Facebook and MySpace got popular just after I left college. Long and short of it is, I finally discovered Facebook this weekend, tagging along after my four younger siblings (and four younger siblings-in-law), and what a great invention! It was great to be able to find friends from school that I haven't been in touch with in awhile, and to have another way to stay connected with my family. I may have to start spending even more time online. Heh.

ETA: Apparently Howard Kurtz also just discovered Facebook and wrote about his experiences navigating the site as a guy older than "99.99% of the Facebook population." It's fairly amusing.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Dawn in DC

Tuesday night I got to meet Dawn Eden, along with a very nice group of other commenters on her blog, at a little get-together in Dupont. I've enjoyed Dawn's writing for several years -- particularly her unapologetic challenges to Planned Parenthood's false messages to women, and her impossibly clever headlines -- so it was great to have the opportunity to meet her in person. It felt a little subversive talking about chastity and random Catholic topics in the particular neighborhood we were in, given it is one of the hippest neighborhoods for singles in the city and I doubt many people would be all that keen on chastity in relationships there! -- but I think everyone had a good time getting to know one another. For my part, I'll definitely have to remember to keep reading the Musical Monk and the Three Massketeers, now that I know some of the personable guys behind these sites. Thanks to Dawn for inviting us out!

A bit more on IVF

I felt my last post was not as well explained as I wanted it to be, so here's a stab at some additional thoughts. I think far more people understand the moral objections to abortion than to IVF or other artificial reproductive technologies, which seems to be an exclusively "Catholic thing." How can anyone oppose the creation of new life, after all? All people want is children to love, so it's hard to see why technologies that help infertile people conceive might be morally problematic.

I think there are intrinsic and extrinsic answers to that. First, in the Catholic understanding sex has two equally important and inseparable aspects, the unitive and the procreative. Cutting off either aspect can do grave damage not just spiritually, but also relationally and socially. Sex outside of marriage cannot be truly unitive because a couple cannot give themselves to each other fully, with the sacramental and lifelong commitment found in marriage. Artificial contraception cuts off the procreative aspect of sex by making a couple closed to the possibility of life. These may be two main examples of how either the unitive or procreative aspect could be denied, but there are certainly more, and everything is frequently interrelated. Just as artificial contraception helped facilitate ever more widespread nonmarital sex and helped separate sex from marriage, ART has helped separate childbearing from sex and in ever more cases, from marriage as well. Instead of being used only to help married couples overcome infertility -- which might seem less objectionable, but still is not acceptable because of the dissociation of procreation from union -- ART is now ever more frequently being used by unmarried single women, by homosexual couples, and by even more creative arrangements involving surrogates, egg donors and sperm donors. All of these violate marital unity and cause children to be harmed by being created in such a way as to intentionally deny them the right to be raised by their own married mother and father. Conception by IVF or other ART, in these cases, is not comparable to adoption or to situations where a child does not have his own mother and father by unfortunate happenstance (death, divorce for serious reasons, or abandonment). It is not making the best of a less-than-ideal situation; it is creating the less-than-ideal situation by intention, from the beginning. Morally, it takes us away from God's design and contributes to us thinking of children as rights, rather than gifts.

As often happens when a situation is morally objectionable, problems may be seen in many practical aspects as well. The processes involved for many ART procedures are arduous and potentially harmful to women's health, in particular -- high doses of hormones to induce superovulation for egg donation or use in IVF could have negative effects, for example, and the egg harvesting procedure is painful. The chances of conceiving and ultimately bearing a child through IVF are surprisingly low (less than 30%, last I saw), meaning these processes may have to be repeated multiple times. Children conceived through ART, while often healthy, have significantly higher incidences of birth defects and are higher risk pregnancies all around, with higher miscarriage rates and premature births. Part of the increased risk comes from the fact that a much higher incidence of ART pregnancies are multiples, including high-order multiples, than occur in nature. People faced with high-order multiple pregnancies are frequently driven to the evil of abortion in order to eliminate some of their unborn children. People who create excess embryos often leave many frozen in stasis for years, only to be destroyed later. People who conceive with anonymous donor sperm or eggs may face the reality of their children having a myriad, unknown number of half-siblings who may grow up anguished about missing the chance to know their siblings or their unknown parent in common. The physical and emotional trauma involved thus are often magnified beyond what is usually found in pregnancies.

Behind all of this is the fact that assisted reproduction is a multi-billion dollar business, marketed efficiently by an industry that has a lot of incentives to turn human beings into commodities, and not many incentives to concern itself with ethical questions. Doctors used to restrict their services to married couples, but if homosexual and single parents represent more customers, more business, more profit, the industry will eagerly expand its services. If women patients are above an age where they can healthily bear children, the industry will offer tempting financial incentives to young college students or poor foreign women, encouraging them to risk their health to donate eggs. Couples or individuals looking to conceive are encouraged to pore through books of egg and sperm donors selecting for superficial traits, as if people were specimens of meat being critically evaluated in a supermarket for quality. The market only encourages this evaluation of people not for who they are, but exclusively for their hair color, SAT score, and height. And the industry has financial incentives to play on the desperation and emotional distress that often come along with the desire to have a child. At ten to twenty thousand dollars per attempted cycle of IVF, people are often at their most vulnerable as they are asked to shell out money for the promised cure. Additional information about donors often costs extra -- want to hear what his voice sounds like? See her baby pictures? That's a value-added service; pay up. Sperm banks and fertility clinics can't really be faulted for trying to increase profits at the margin.

Thus for all of these intrinsic and extrinsic reasons, IVF and assisted reproductive technologies are seriously problematic. Everyone can sympathize with the heartache and despair felt by those who face infertility -- I certainly do. But the answer should not be to seek to create children outside of marriage, with anonymous donors or create surrogate arrangements; it is to lay this burden at the foot of the Cross, to pray for strength through the suffering, and perhaps to help make the best out of another child's difficult situation through loving adoption or caregiving in another way. Doctors should be able to work to find cures for impotence or infertility, but I don't think creating children outside of marriage or artificially should count as such a "cure" that would be morally permissible.

ETA, though I would hope it goes without saying: Of course the circumstances of their conception are never the children's fault, and their lives should be celebrated as should the lives of all children. I know several families with multiples who are great, happy kids. Appreciation and support for those who are already here (and hopefully a part of loving families!) shouldn't stop us, however, from questioning whether the industry and methods used to conceive them should continue to be unregulated and widely accepted.