The Pornography of Barbarism

I am not easily shocked anymore.

Perhaps it is my profession, where the constant exposure to human suffering and pain harden the spirit and keep emotions at a safe distance. Perhaps it is the almost imperceptible but relentless inoculation brought about by the constant stream of violence and vice which pour forth from the dazzling screen faced daily from the comfort of cottage and couch. Perhaps it is the cynicism and callousness from one too many movies showing gratuitous sex; one too many art exhibits with fecal creativity or blasphemous pretension; one too many headlines of school shootings or child rape. It all seems to blend together, like some Clockwork Orange deprogramming script shimmering on screen as we sit with eyes held open against our will, the beauty of Beethoven lulling us into the normalization of depravity.

Each scene, more horrid than the last, flashes by, horrifying in the moment but soon forgotten, our calloused souls no longer responding, our eyes transfixed in cold determination on money and the material, routine and ritual. We have swum in the cesspool so long we no longer notice the smell.

This week, some things broke through the indifferent haze. Like some unheralded emetic, the cynical disdain for a culture gone corrupt turned instead to nausea — physical, to be sure, yet far more: a nausea of the soul, a dyspepsia so deep in the spirit that no hardened defense could mask its rolling waves of disgust and dismay.

There was, at the first, the video: a teenage girl, lured into a trap, then brutally beaten by six other girls her age for thirty minutes continually, carefully recorded on video for upload to YouTube.

Then came the Yale “artist” who repeatedly impregnated herself by artificial insemination, then aborted the fetus with drugs, carefully saving the results for display wrapped in plastic and Vaseline for her senior art exhibit.

Then this morning, in the local paper: a man — a school bus driver — convicted for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl left alone on his bus.

One could multiply such incidents, ad nauseum, on almost any given day, in any part of the world — beheadings and genocide, ghoulish scenes of body parts and bloodied walls from yet another heroic martyr seeking virgins through hyperviolence. Yet these events, small on such a savage scale, in some way troubled me more than most.

One wants to rail at a society gone mad, at a civilization which has lost its bearings and moral compass, at a decadence fed by materialism and secularism, force-fed with the rotgut wine of postmodern relativism, drunk with the notion that ideas have no consequence and idols worshiped bring no destruction.

Yet the time for such anguished mourning seems long past, its passing but a point in a pitiful past history. We have, it seems, entered the post-human age.

Our secular prophets have heralded the Good News: there is no God; we are but accidental apes. We have been liberated from the bondage of religion and morals; we are, at last, in this twenty-first century, at the pinnacle of human achievement and potential. The shackles of superstition are broken, the potential of man unbounded, his glory unlimited but by the constraints of his imagination.

Yet as we celebrate our exalted humanity, the technology we worship brings glimpses of a darker reality, flashed in some subliminal message quickly dismissed as aberration or sideshow.

We may reflexly think of those who partake in such ghastly exhibitionism to be but beasts– but to think thus insults the animal, whose nobility far exceeds our own. For the animal kingdom is violent, brutish, and predatory — but it is so with purpose, its violence constrained by the drive to survive, or mate, or protect its territory. It is only the human animal who ventures into the subhuman, in glorification and gleeful pursuit of perversion for pleasure, of violence as theater. It is this theatrics of barbarism so prevalent in our age which bespeaks something far darker, more sinister, more terrifying. For to be human is to share the beautiful and the good with the hideous and evil; it has been so since the dawn of history. But to celebrate perdition, to promulgate a pornography of barbarism, to cast it abroad over media and message seems the unique and chilling characteristic of our current reckless age.

Civilization has always withstood the barbarians with low walls lightly guarded. It has depended far less on strength of force than strength of character, a consensus among the civilized that certain behavior and unrestrained license threaten its very existence. Laws and the power of enforcement cannot long resist the dark demons of depravity unleashed from within; the power of Rome proved feeble when there became no difference between the citizens within and the barbarians without. The Dark Ages which thus ensued seem now long forgotten, even as we arrogate the privileges of freedom while destroying the self-control and restraint on which it depends.

Our own Dark Ages seem soon upon us. The knowledge and technology which have brought us to such great heights will document in vivid color the breaching of the walls and the slaughter of the children.

Be sure to e-mail a link to your friends.

The Call

Still trying to stay one step ahead of the snapping alligators, so here’s another older post, hopefully worth your time — Dr. Bob

 
cancer

Damn!, I hate these calls…

Lying on my desk, clipped to a yellow manila binder, is a single sheet of paper. Its pleasant color format and sampled photomicrograph belie the gravity of its content:

Adenocarcinoma, Gleason grade 9, involving 60% of the specimen.

How do you deliver a death sentence?

Your first impression of Charlie is his sheer mass: 50 years young, healthy as a horse, built like a tank, a former football player turned popular coach at a local high school. He arrived at my office after seeing his family physician for an acute illness, with fever, chills, and problems urinating. His doctor had diagnosed a urinary tract infection, placed him on an antibiotic, and drew a PSA–a screening test for prostate cancer. It was markedly elevated: over 100, with normal being less than 4. I grumbled to myself as I reviewed his chart: Those damned primary care docs shouldn’t draw PSAs when patients have prostate infections — it just muddies the waters.

PSA (prostate specific antigen) is a test which measures a protein in the blood stream released by prostate tissue. It has greatly improved early detection of prostate cancer in the 20 years it has been in widespread use — but it is not, strictly speaking, a cancer test. It is noisy — often abnormal in other conditions, including benign prostate enlargement (BPH), inflammation, and prostate infection. It is virtually always elevated in the presence of an acute prostate infection — often markedly so — and can take months to return to normal. The high PSA alarms the patient, however, who is told he may have cancer. But most do not — and Charlie looked like a classic case of infection.

His history was typical, and his response to antibiotics appropriate, so this seemed at first glance like so many other similar cases I had seen. His prostate exam was alarming, however: rock-hard and irregular, unlike the typical soft, boggy texture of an infected gland. Experience and training kicked in, and I knew exactly what we were dealing with: a relatively uncommon form of prostate infection called granulomatous prostatitis. I had seen dozens of cases — always alarming on first exam, with very high PSA values — and always responding to long-term antibiotics. Charlie was started on a one-month course of high-powered, high-priced bug exterminator, and came back for follow-up after its completion.

He was feeling better, and his PSA had dropped markedly, to 45. His prostate exam also seemed improved, but still quite abnormal. I remained quite confident in my diagnosis — after all, cancer doesn’t get better on antibiotics — but was unwilling to wait much longer to know for sure. I scheduled a prostate biopsy, reassuring him after its completion of my optimism that the results would show only infection.

The report was a blow to the gut. I sat silently, staring at it, in stunned disbelief.

In the age of PSA screening, most prostate cancers are detected at an early, curable stage — although their slow-growing nature makes treatment less important in very elderly patients. The chances for cure at diagnosis are determined by an estimate of the size and aggressiveness of the tumor. Size is determined by exam, ultrasound findings, and total PSA values; aggressiveness by the Gleason score — a value indicator (between 2 and 10) of the aggressive appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope. Higher is not better: Gleason scores of 9 and 10 indicate rapidly growing cancers which tend to spread early and are difficult — if not impossible — to cure. Charlie had drawn a pair of deuces in a high-stakes poker game: large volume, high-Gleason score cancer. The statistics were dismal: he would likely be dead of cancer in 5 years, regardless of treatment. And as cancer deaths go, this one’s not pretty: pain is a huge management problem in many, as the cancer infests and erodes the spine and long bones, breaking even the strongest of men. One learns to hate this disease before very many such cases have been seen.

And now I had to call him with his biopsy results.

The actual call will be brief: I will inform him that, unfortunately, the biopsy has shown cancer, that additional tests will be needed to determine its extent and the best way to manage it, and arrange for a follow-up visit in the office. The real bad news will be transmitted then, face-to-face, with more than enough information for its gravity to sink in. To do this — without robbing hope — will require more inner strength than is readily at hand.

But for now, I simply need to tell him he has cancer.

The word cancer encapsulates the deepest fears and anxieties of man, embodying in one small word pain, suffering, loss of control, hopelessness, dependency, death, the fragility of our dreams and hopes, and our uncertainty about the hereafter. To inform a patient that he has cancer is to shatter the illusion, the daily denial that death may yet be outmaneuvered, forestalled, kept on hold for some future date of our own determining. It is an illusion which dies hard — surprisingly so, as we alone among all creation are cognizant of its inevitability and certainty.

Perhaps the cruelest wish a man might be granted — were there some bottled genie passing out such favors — is knowledge of his own future. Yet, in some small measure, that power has been granted to me, and others of my profession. Not in any specific manner, of course — not of days or years, details or circumstances — but in knowledge deep enough to see the broad strokes: shadowy figures through rippled glass, of pain, and loss, and shattered dreams, of desperate grasping at the frail straws of fading hope, as the drumbeat of mortality pounds ever louder toward its dark crescendo.

Patients receive the call in different ways. Most accept it with seeming stoicism, and little expressed emotion — yet it is not hard to imagine — and sometimes to sense — the tight grasp of fear that grabs the throat and grips the heart. When wives are listening, the fear is more immediate, more palpable, as voices tremble with panic despite every effort to control it. A million questions will arise — but almost never on the initial call. On rare occasion, there is a casual indifference to the news — prompting reflection on what strength of spirit — or dense denial — such men possess.

I often wonder how I would receive the call. As a Christian, I am confident of a life hereafter, eternal, spent in the presence of Him who loves me. Some call that arrogance, or self-righteous; it is not. God alone knows better than I the darkness of my heart, the depravity that makes me uniquely unsuited to be in the presence of the Holy One but for one moment, much less eternity. But I have been adopted — an unworthy child by an unspeakably loving and merciful Father, who only asks submission to His tender guidance and direction, and transforms a lost fool into something useful, something cherished, someone with purposes aligned — though poorly so — with His own.

But the call of death — so confidently faced from the comfortable vantage of good health and cheap grace — will strike fear into my heart when it arrives, for far smaller challenges have brought dread in larger measure. There will be the fear of the ordeal, the journey of suffering, the loss of things now treasured but instantly made worthless. There will be the pain of watching the loss of those close to me, struggling to make sense of a relationship, undervalued while unthreatened, yet now more precious while counting down inexorably to its end. I know – -by the tutor of past and bitter experience — that faith will sustain me and mine through it all. But one cannot know what that day will be like — nor should we wish to ever know.

But for Charlie, the battle will now be enjoined — the weapons and wherewithal of modern medicine in all-out war against its implacable foe. Perhaps by some miracle or unexpected grace he will be given a reprieve, a window to revalue and reassess life’s course, its priorities, its purpose. For even when we are cured, we are healed to face death again: Lazarus, once risen, will revisit the stony crypt. Yet the Voice which called him forth calls us also, beckoning toward a painful light from the cold terrors of death.

How difficult to be the herald of another’s mortality — it is a burden no man should have to bear. Some will deliver it through the steely detachment hammered hard by years of training; some avoid it altogether where possible, through choice of profession or abdication of responsibility. But for those who must speak this hard truth, may there be grace and wisdom, empathy and compassion.

May it be also for me.

Monday Links


 
White dogs can’t dance….

That’s all for now, God bless, back soon.

Holiday Pork Tenderloin

This is reposted from Dec 2006.

Excellent Easter main course.

 
pork tenderloinThe holidays are in full swing — which means a concerted effort to attain new heights of dietary excess, occasioned by an endless stream of convivial gatherings of family and friends. Einstein postulated that gravity has waves; such waves seem self-evident, making the bathroom scale increasingly inaccurate at certain times of the solar year.

This year, for a dinner for our church small group, I decided to have a wonderful chutney-glazed stuffed pork which I discovered last year at Easter, courtesy of a good friend who is an excellent cook. It was, by the estimation of an esteemed group of culinary critics (my family), the best pork they had ever tasted. I think I have to agree.

The dish begins with a full pork tenderloin. Our local Costco has these at surprisingly good prices – $17 for a full tenderloin (the entire psoas muscle, for those of you anatomically inclined). I cut this in half to make the length manageable in a roasting pan.

The tenderloin is a very lean cut, but has a tough fascial layer (tendon) running along one side. There is a plane between a thinner layer of sinew on the meat and the main tendon, so the thicker tendon can be separated fairly easily, leaving a thin layer of collagen on the meat.

Always use good surgical technique, of coarse: traction-countertraction, scissor tips in closed, then spread to separate and condense the loose connective tissue, which is then cut. Good kitchen shears or a very sharp knife are a must. The thin layer of attached collagen remaining will prove useful for the next maneuver — preparing the loin for stuffing.

With the tendon-side down, the loin is first bivalved along its center, nearly full thickness. The thin tendon helps hold the roast together with this deep cut. Now, in order to increase the size of the stuffing area — and give the finished meat an internal star pattern of stuffing — several cuts are made laterally at an angle from the center cut.

The first cut starts just below the center of each half, angled toward the cutting board. The next is angled parallel to the cutting board. The idea is to create angled wedges of meat, which will allow the loin to expand and form the sides of the star.

The roast should now lie flat, with triangular ridges running it’s length.

    

Now, on to the stuffing: I prefer to use fresh-baked baguettes from our local supermarket, sliced thinly and allowed to dry overnight (or in a warm oven for 20-30 minutes), then coarsely chopped in a food processor. Packaged stuffing is OK, but should not be seasoned.

Next comes the fruit — pears and apricots. Pour off the syrup from a large can of pears and save it, then chop the pears and apricots, sprinkle with allspice, then add to the stuffing. I sometimes add some fruit for color as well — blueberries, dried cranberries, or currants.

    

Now add some slivered almonds to the mix for crunch and texture, and blend.

    

To moisten the stuffing we introduce our next secret ingredient: chutney. Our favorite is Silver Palate Mango Chutney, which has a hefty dose of ginger, resulting in a bit of a “bite” — a wonderful blend of sweet and tangy. The chutney is thinned with some of the pear juice, and added to the stuffing mixture to bind it.

    

The moistened stuffing is then worked into the opened roast in generous amounts, which is then rolled in and tied with kitchen twine. Use a surgeon’s knot (double loop on the first throw) to prevent the twine from slipping.

  

The pork loin halves are then glazed with the chutney and placed on a rack in a large roasting pan. The oven is heated to 325 degrees, and basting is not necessary. Roasting time is a bit hard to predict — this roast took about 2 hours — but cook to an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees, using a good meat thermometer. Do not overcook! Domestically-raised pork has an extremely low risk of trichinosis (unlike wild game), and the parasite is killed at about 135-140 degrees, if not less. Overcooked pork is a dry abomination, suited only for snacks after waterboarding at Gitmo.

Preparing this roast may look like a production, but is actually quite fast, taking only about 30-45 minutes of prep time before it reaches the oven. It is excellent served with a garnish of crushed raspberries with sugar and lemon juice, or cranberry horseradish sauce.

So give it a whirl for your next holiday meal or guest dinner. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Three Men on a Friday

CalvaryThree men on a Friday, condemned to die. Ensnared by Roman justice, convicted, and sentenced to a lingering death of profound cruelty and excruciating agony.

The Romans knew how to do it right: execution designed to utterly humiliate its victims, and maximize their suffering–a public spectacle and object lesson to others about the foolishness of defying Roman authority. First used by the Persians in the time of Alexander the Great, and adopted by Rome from Carthage, crucifixion was so horrible and debasing a fate that it was not permitted for citizens of Rome. Victims hung for days, their corpses consumed by carrion.

Our knowledge of these three men is incomplete. Two are described in ancient texts as thieves, the other a preacher run afoul of religious leaders, delivered to the Romans under pretense of imperial threat. There should have been nothing unusual about this event: the Romans crucified criminals often, sometimes hundreds at a time. Yet these men, in this spectacle, were different: on these crosses hung all of mankind.

Two thieves and a preacher — an odd picture indeed. And even more peculiar: the most hated was the preacher. Taunted, insulted, ridiculed, reviled. A miracle worker, he, a man who supposedly healed the sick and raised the dead, yet now hung naked in humiliation and agony, unable to extricate himself from his dire circumstance. Even those convicted with him–themselves dying in unbearable pain and mortification — join the fray. Insulting the rabbi, demanding he set himself–and naturally, themselves as well–free. They know his reputation, yet selfish to the end, desire only their own deliverance.

But one thief is slowly transformed, in frailty considering his fate and the foolishness of demanding release when his punishment is just. And he marvels at the man hung nearby — why? Why does this preacher, unjustly executed, not proclaim innocence nor demand justice or vengeance? Why does he–amazingly–ask God to forgive those who have so cruelly and unjustly punished him? Why, in the extraordinary agony only crucifixion can bring, does he seem to have peace, acceptance, perhaps even joy?

His revulsion at the baying crowd, at the arrogance of his fellow convict reviling this man of character and grace, bursts forth in rebuke at him who ridicules: “This man has done no wrong!” Turning to the preacher, he makes a simple, yet humble, request: to be remembered. Only that. No deliverance from agony, no sparing of death, no wealth, prosperity, or glory, no miracles–only to be remembered.

The reply reverberates throughout history: “This day you shall be with me in Paradise.” A promise of hope, a promise of relationship, a promise of forgiveness, a promise of comfort, joy, healing, peace.

Three men on a cross. In these three men are all who have lived: two are guilty, one innocent. Two are justly executed, one unjustly. All three have chosen their fate: one thief to revile, ridicule, hate, blaspheme; one criminal to trust, to seek consideration and mercy from one greater; one man to submit to brutal and humiliating torture and death, willingly, for no crime committed — or for all crimes committed, everywhere and for all time. Yet only one promise given–to the one who, though guilty, trusted and turned.

Who was this man in the middle, this preacher? A charlatan, perhaps – but an impostor abandons his schemes when such consequences appear. Delusional, deceived zealot, or presumptuous fool? Such grace in agonal death is inconceivable were he any such man. What power did he have to make such a promise? What proof that the promise was delivered?

An empty grave. A promise delivered by a cavern abandoned, a stone rolled away. A gruesome death transformed into a life of hope, meaning and purpose for those who also trust.

Hold Harmless

Today’s big viral buzz whipping around the web is, of course, the white-hot story about Elliott Spitzer. This story’s got it all: power, politics, arrogance, big money, sex. Now, Spitzer is not one of those fellows much on my radar screen — just another power-hungry prosecutor who hacked his way through people’s lives in his climb to the top: think Mike Nifong, only luckier — at least up until now. Can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, now, can you? Perhaps there is truly Karma in this life…

But this post is not about Elliott Spitzer and his political boner at all; it is rather about a comment made regarding his transgression by Jon Henke over at QandO blog, to wit:

Perhaps this would be a good time for people in both parties to reevaluate the counter-productive, anti-freedom laws surrounding prostitution. I’m not sure what Gov. Spitzer was doing, but I would bet he wasn’t hurting anybody else. The question of legality should be distinct from the question of propriety.

Now, this little editorial by Jon put a bee under my bonnet.

The folks over at QandO — an excellent blog, written by bright, well-informed folks — are strongly libertarian. I find the libertarian position appealing in many regards, as I have seen first-hand how destructive the meddling hand of government has been in health care, and how increasingly intrusive it has become in so many other areas of our lives. Nor am I here to pontificate about the evils of prostitution or the wages of sin. I know full well that we all make horrible mistakes in life — myself included — and thus hiring a hooker, while less than noble, strikes me as a common enough failing of men, whether great or small. And visiting a prostitute is certainly not without risks — but that is a story for another time.

No, here’s what really bugs me about the above statement: “I would bet he wasn’t hurting anybody else.”

Really?

The notion — so common in libertarian circles — that our private behavior should be beyond the reach of social and legal constraint, because “it doesn’t hurt anyone” — betrays an extraordinarily narrow and parochial view of the impact of individual human behavior on other people and society as a whole.

So Elliott Spitzer visits a hooker — what’s the big deal? Aside from himself, has anyone been hurt? If it were legalized, none of this would be happening, you know. Because no one got hurt.

Well, let’s see:

I wonder if his wife, who presumably trusted her husband, and believed his vows of faithfulness to her, has been hurt by this “private behavior”? I wonder if her reputation has been damaged in any way? She will, no doubt, be forced to grovel and speak platitudes about her love and commitment to her husband, just to save his political hide and sullied reputation. Her integrity and dignity, of course, will not be besmirched in any way by whoring herself for his political career.

I wonder if his wife, who could easily have contracted an incurable venereal disease — such as HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, or AIDS, because of her husband’s indiscretion, might be hurt in any way by his “private behavior”? The herpes she might pass on to her next child, were she still of child-bearing age, might leave their baby blind — but, hey, no big deal. Nobody gets hurt, remember?

I wonder if his children, now exposed to a highly public and humiliating disgrace of their father, will understand that “nobody gets hurt by his private behavior.” Doubtless they will sail through life completely unfazed when their parents’ marriage shatters on the rocks because of this little dalliance. I’m sure they will not have learned anything about having a trustworthy and honest father, nor about a marriage committed to sexual faithfulness and lifelong commitment, and one can be quite confident that none of this will have any impact whatsoever on their success and happiness in life. `cause it wasn’t about them, remember? Private matter.

The prostitute, of course, got paid handsomely for a few hours of work. The money she made no doubt will help feed her drug habit which she likely supports through her prostitution. Of course, for the libertarian, drugs are another harmless personal pursuit, so the personal destruction they inevitably bring about in her life is of course none of society’s business. Prostitution is far and away the most dangerous profession a women may engage in, with an extraordinarily high rate of violence, murder, drug overdose, and HIV. Odd — since “no one gets hurt” in this “victimless” crime. Consenting adults and all that, don’t ya know.

She funneled a good chunk of that money to her pimps in the prostitution ring, who will no doubt use it for social good, by entrapping more desperate women in the white slave trade, paying bribes to police and public officials to keep their business thriving, and perhaps reinvesting their substantial profits into other criminal activities, drug running, tax evasion, and many of those other harmless private activities they no doubt pursue. I’m sure if prostitution were legalized they would donate the cash to a local charity, and hang out at the Rotary club.

This sort of tunnel vision permeates much of libertarian thought. What harm is done by smoking a little weed in the privacy of your home, or snorting a little coke at home before work? The fact that many drugs remain in your system for prolonged periods — even weeks in the case of THC — with the potential of impairing reflex times, attention span, and the decision-making process, makes your private recreational activity completely harmless when you climb into the driver’s seat of a school bus the next morning, doesn’t it?

It is well within society’s purview and government’s responsibility to place restraints, legal and otherwise, on private behavior which adversely affects others. The notion that removal of all such restraints will increase freedom and reduce vice is illusory. It would surely increase license, as those currently inhibited by the adverse legal and societal consequences of such behavior would be far more prone to indulge in it. The libertarian’s assumption is that the bulk of adverse consequences arises from the enforcement and prosecution of such crimes — far more than by the actual crime itself. This is a highly arguable proposition, and vastly underestimates the subtle but highly destructive nature such behavior permeates through a culture.

There can be little doubt, for example, that an intact, heterosexual marriage provides the best environment for raising emotionally healthy, responsible, and productive children in society. Kids from such environments do better in school; have far lower incidence of criminal and disciplinary problems; are more likely to avoid early-onset sexual activity, teen pregnancy, promiscuity, and unwed motherhood; are more likely to do well economically; and more likely to enter stable, enduring marriages themselves. All such advantages are highly beneficial to society as a whole. Would legalized prostitution, with resulting increased utilization, risk endangering the marriages which provide such substantial societal benefits? Perhaps not for many, but most certainly for some — and the ripple effect over several generations is incalculably large, evident daily in the extant cultural erosion of marriage already long underway in Western society, through liberalized divorce laws, normalization of unwed motherhood, and tolerance and promotion of sexual license and promiscuity. The sins of the fathers truly are carried down to the third and fourth generation — and beyond.

Likewise with legalizing drugs: there is no doubt that the illegality of street drugs creates and sustains a vast, violent, multi-billion dollar international crime network, and our current war on drugs, though enormously expensive, has little to show for these billions spent in restraining the abuse or the crime network which feeds it. It is tempting to put an end to this waste through legalization of street drugs — but again the perceived benefits — financially starving the drug cartels and dealers — seems illusory at best. Will a black market in drugs simply disappear when they are legalized? What will the societal impact of increased use of newly-legalized street drugs have on the behavior of individuals, employment history, domestic violence, marriage stability, child neglect and abuse? The downward spiral so characteristic of addiction will not simply go away because the substances they abuse are now legal — nor will the social and behavioral destruction their use so often engenders.

What we are witnessing here — that which the libertarian finds (somewhat justifiably) so onerous — is an excellent example of the Law of Rules: as inner moral restraint deteriorates (through erosion of religious influences; fewer stable marriages and families to teach children moral standards; the perpetual onslaught against social and moral restraint by an aggressively secular, materialistic and hedonistic society; etc. etc.), there must be a multiplication of rules, laws and enforcement to mitigate the destructive consequences of increasingly narcissistic individualism. The outcome must ultimately be either anarchy or tyranny, for without inner self-control, the only alternatives for continued societal stability and function are the forces of external control — the nanny state, slouching ever forward toward totalitarianism and the police state. The alternative is bleaker still: chaos and societal collapse.

When we do away with laws — even those increasingly encroaching on our freedom — without reestablishing, sustaining, and nurturing our inner moral compasses, the results will invariably be not more freedom, but far less.

Lancet Speared

Remember the Lancet study? You know, the one which came out days before the 2006 election, reporting that the Iraq war had caused about 655,000 excess civilian deaths — a number about 20 times larger than most other estimates? It was widely reported in the mainstream media, echoed by politicians and pundits who were quick to use it to further damage the Bush administration politically and heighten opposition to an already unpopular war. It was also widely cited in Europe and the Middle East as evidence of American brutality and callousness in the execution of the war. Because it was published in a prestigious medical journal, those who were skeptical of its findings were left arguing about arcane epidemiological and statistical flaws which virtually guaranteed that no one would listen. The idea that a medical journal would publish a document almost purely political in nature was, of course, pooh-poohed by all the right people.

The National Journal has been quietly investigating this study, looking not only at its methodology, but its authors, participants, and the financial backing for its research, and has published its findings in a detailed review. It is must-reading for anyone who wishes to see how deeply the “scientific” literature can be co-opted and corrupted by politics and bias.

Just a few of the NJ’s findings:

The authors of the Lancet study followed a model that ensured that even minor components of the data, when extrapolated over the whole population, would yield huge differences in the death toll.

The Iraqi scientist recruited to oversee the researchers conducting field surveys in Iraq, Riyadh Lafta, had been a child-health official in Saddam Hussein’s ministry of Health when the ministry was trying to end the international sanctions against Iraq by asserting that many Iraqis were dying from hunger, disease, or cancer caused by spent U.S. depleted-uranium shells remaining from the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Lafta was quoted as saying, “God has picked these clusters [sample groups]. If God wants me, he will take me.” Roberts, one of the study principals, who recruited Lafta, also quoted him as saying, “I know no one [who] perceives themselves so humbly to be a tool of God’s destiny…. He sees his science as synonymous with service to God.”

The study’s authors have repeatedly refused to provide the surveyors’ reports and original data which supported their findings.

Virtually everyone connected with the study has been an outspoken opponent of U.S. actions in Iraq.

A substantial portion (about half) of the funding for the study came from the Open Society Institute created by George Soros.

The Lancet editor who agreed to rush the study into print before the 2006 election, with an expedited peer-review process and without seeing the surveyors’ original data, also makes no secret of his leftist politics. At a September 2006 rally in Manchester, England, he declared, “This axis of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and conflict, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people are left to die in poverty and disease.”

This, and much, much more can be found in the National Journal’s article. Take the time to read it, and think about it the next time some “unbiased” medical or scientific article is cited for political purposes.

This is, by the way, the Lancet‘s equivalent of TNR‘s Beauchamps meltdown. And don’t expect to hear about this on CNN later this week. (HT: Brutally Honest)

Update:
The WSJ has picked up on this as well: The Lancet’s Political Hit.

On Purpose


Rick over at Brutally Honest hooked me with a post on, of all things, zombies:

I question consistently whether I’m living a worthy life. Hence the reference to that ending scene where Private Ryan, now an old man kneeling at the grave of the Captain who saved his life, turns to his wife and pleads “Tell me I have led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” … Indeed, I find [the question of whether am a walking dead man] terrifying. Perhaps it’s my Catholic upbringing with its focus on guilt. Perhaps it’s my exposure later in life to evangelical Christianity and it’s focus on being saved. Or perhaps it’s simply something I focus on in case this whole notion of God’s mercy and grace, where I live and hope today, are in error.

Its funny how these things seem to drop in on you when you’re thrashing about mentally on the very same topic — one might almost think it was more than just coincidence.

At the heart of Rick’s post lies the question, “Does life — my life — have meaning?” This is one of those questions which never seems to go away, no matter how much we try to drown it out. We hear, day after day, about how we are cosmic accidents, amino acids and random chance tossed into the whirling blender of evolution to produce a highly sophisticated human Margarita. In such a world, ruled by the cruel logic of cosmic chance, questions of meaning and purpose would appear frivolous and irrational. But nevertheless, they just keep popping up, like moles in the movie Caddy Shack. Even the fundamentalist secularists, the Dawsons and Hawkins and Hitchens of the world, can’t seem to tear themselves away from the language of purpose and intent, as they speculate how random chance and natural selection “choose” to create us and “select” the “best” genetic mishaps to produce that animal which we call man.

Ask your average man on the street what his or her purpose in life is, and expect in response some snide comment, humorous retort, or — if they be halfway serious — something approaching a short-term goal. So their “purpose” might be to graduate from school, or pass their exams, or become an attorney, or get laid this weekend, or get a better job. But in fact, such responses reflect in their commonality a profound shallowness so typical of an age where we have everything but that for which our hollow hearts hunger.

For it seems we often confuse goals with the idea of purpose. For the concept of purpose or meaning in life presupposes something beyond ourselves. It implies that we are fitting into a larger picture, a grander scheme, some overarching game plan vaster than ourselves, yet capable of including us in the fullness of its accomplishment. The idea of purpose does not necessarily mandate believe in a deity — although it leads quite naturally in this direction.

Inherent in the idea of purpose is an innate sense that we are aligned in some way with a greater good, a larger existence than that which we may measure and perceive. It implies simply that we are not merely one small cog in a complex machine, but rather an integral part, even an indispensable one, without which the machine can not fully accomplish that for which it exists.

If we confuse our goals with our purpose, we will inevitably end up frustrated and unhappy. If your goal is to graduate from college, when you graduate, do you now have purpose? Hardly. Instead such accomplishments merely mark a signpost, an indicator pointing to yet another goal, larger and even farther out of reach. Having arrived at our destination, we immediately set out towards a new goal — be it becoming a professional, or a carpenter, or getting married, or making a boatload of money. By simply resetting our goals into the future we believe — or want to believe — that we are moving forward with purpose. But once these newer goals are reached — or equally so if we failed to reach them — there is an inevitable emptiness, a sense of, “Is this all there is to life?” When you are finally successful in that career you have been working toward for decades, why is it that you find yourself so unsatisfied with arriving at this long-sought destination? If your goal is raising children, what will you do when they grow up and leave the house? You have met your goals, but have yet to meet your purpose.

The result is too often seen: the divorce, the new marriage, the philandering, the drinking, the obsessive pursuit of money and prestige and power, and an unholy host of behaviors which are far more destructive than satisfying. Such may serve in the near term to fill the emptiness which comes when goals are substituted for purpose, but they do not fill that inner need for being part of the greater good and accomplishing something of lasting value in life.

In my own feeble experience, having made a myriad of such mistakes myself, I have, I believe, finally stumbled upon the paradox of purpose: I know that I have a purpose in life — and I don’t know exactly what that purpose is. Nor, I suspect, will I ever know it fully this side of the undertaker’s icy slab. This, I suspect, is life in the realm of faith: that mysterious, almost intangible sense that you are on the right road, while being able to see neither your feet on the ground nor the path along which you’re headed.

So for now, my purpose is to serve those who have been put into my life as family, friends, and patients. I fulfill my purpose by being the best physician possible for my patients; by being a good husband and father; by being a loyal friend. It should go without saying that I meet these lofty ideals imperfectly and often poorly. But this is the standard against which I measure my conformity to purpose, a small shaft of light which casts just enough illumination to see where my next step should be.

Yet it is also apparent that my current striving to achieve such high ideals does not encompass a life purpose in its entirety. If I am a good physician, a good father, a loving husband, a loyal friend, I am following my life’s purpose as best I can discern. Yet if my purpose is comprised solely of being, say, a good physician, what then will my purpose be tomorrow should I be injured or incapacitated such that I can no longer practice my profession? My life may change enormously — yet my purpose will not. I will still have an ultimate purpose in life, but the vehicle through which I fulfill that purpose may change radically and wrenchingly, with agonizing violence.

It is here that I must rest almost entirely on the idea of grace — that there is a hand guiding me which does know the path and the purpose, and may in an instant radically change the rules of the game in order to more fully implement that larger purpose. To live in such a mindset requires a confidence in the existence and unfailing goodness of God — even while doubting that very existence and goodness more often than I care to share. Without grace, I am left to the ruthless serendipity of slavery: I am constantly wondering whether I am living up to a standard, or whether God is punishing me because of this change in course, or perhaps simply being capricious or vindictive for some past behavior. If my God is immutably good and gracious, my life’s purpose is will thereby be good by design — and will be — hard as it is to swallow — nearly invisible to my blinkered eyes.

To have purpose in life is to have confidence in the goodness of God, and a willingness to follow and trust in places I do not wish to go. To salve the fear inherent in such an unknown trust there comes a measure of inner peace that arises not from understanding, but from trusting. For is only when we walk by faith, not by sight, that our lives can truly begin to have that transcendent purpose which is the only worthwhile goal.