Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Finding in the Temple

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and men. 
--Luke 2:41-52

It's not entirely clear from the passage, but the first line implies that Mary and Joseph went up to Jerusalem alone in past years. I find that reassuring. Even the parents of Jesus needed to get away sometimes, to go and pray alone together, to take a trip and leave the little second person of the Trinity with one of the numerous relatives or acquaintances.

I like young Jesus. His answer to Mary isn't sass, nor is it only understandable on a deeper spiritual level. He's being entirely divine, and entirely a smart kid. When he finds himself alone in Jerusalem, he goes to the most obvious place (he believes) his parents would look for him: the temple. And he stays there until they come. So when Mary tells him that she and Joseph had been all over the place looking for him, he's understandably flummoxed. Why'd you do that, Mom? Couldn't you guess I'd have been here all the time, waiting for you? Why did you look anywhere else? It's just the answer a bright twelve-year-old would give, completely plausible on the literal surface level, and precisely the sort of story a mother would keep in her heart and recount years later when asked for memories of her son.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Amazon, Small Business and the Sales Tax

Legislation is making its way through congress that will impose sales tax on most online business transactions. Currently, businesses are required to collect sales tax if they have "significant" physical presences within a state. This can mean either a retail location or a warehouse. If a retailer is completely out of state (say I'm in Ohio and all of the business's facilities are located in Maine) it is not required to collect sales tax. Generally speaking, the states require that in such cases consumers voluntarily report the purchase to their state of residence and make the appropriate payment, but in practice, basically no one does this and it's unenforceable.

As online retail has grown, more and more people have advocated that online retailers be forced to collect sales tax as well. The populist explanation for this is that it protects "mom and pop businesses" from being crushed by Amazon. If local retailers have to charge sales tax while out-of-state online retailers do not, then online retailers get to offer 7-12% lower prices right out of the gate.

There's some truth to this, though I think that the main things that afflict small local businesses are that they often don't offer the selection of online retailers, plus going to your computer is more convenient than going to a store. However, what it misses is that many of today's "mom and pop businesses" are online businesses. The current legislation does exempt businesses with total sales under $1 million, however that's not really as much as it sounds. If an online retailer is making 10-20% gross margins after cost of goods and shipping, a business with $1 million dollars in total sales is probably only supporting 1-3 people at fairly middle class wages. For that kind of company, having to deal with the paperwork involved in collecting and paying sales taxes for 50 different states would be a major obstacle.

When I briefly ran a very small online retail business, just dealing with the sales tax for the 3-5 orders a quarter from my own state was a pain, having to do that times fifty seems pretty unimaginable. My business didn't have anywhere near $1 million in sales, but I did once work for a couple years at a small business which had $20 million in sales and employed 15 people, and even there having to file quarterly sales taxes with fifty different states would have been a massive increase in our workload.

In the modern world, "small business" does not just mean brick and mortar shop fronts in your home town, it means small specialty retailers that operate in the online world. Two I particularly like that provide good examples of this kind of dynamic online small business are Classic Shaving and Saddleback Leather Co. These offer the kinds of specialty products you might not be able to find outside one of the largest cities (if there) through an online environment, and do so with far more personality and passion for quality products than online (or brick and mortar) mega-retailers. They're also the size company that would be hit hard by this kind of legislation.

By comparison, filing taxes in all those states is something Amazon can do without even batting an eye. And if everyone has to do it, it doesn't impact their price advantage either. That's doubtless why Amazon is supporting the bill.

There's a myth out there that big businesses hate regulation. They may not love it, but in fact they often are willing to make friends with it because they have deep enough pockets to coopt the process of writing it, and they know that they can afford to comply with it better than their smaller competitors.

Hope, in the moment

Another fine post from Julia at Lotsa Laundry, on hope in the moment:
A few weeks back I was trying to encourage/persuade/convince my PTSD child to break a large task (getting up and getting dressed) into smaller chunks. First, sit up. After that, stand up. Then take off the jammie top. Etcetera. We were aiming for the really basic stuff. The child refused to do any of it, because it was too scary. 
I could feel my frustration rising, which is what happens when I don't know what to do. So I did what I always do in that (embarrassingly common) situation: I prayed for the words that were needed. 
What came out was this: "I'm not asking you to do anything you can't. But I am asking you to do every single thing that you can." 
Oh. Oh, yes! That was exactly it. If you can sit up, do that, and focus only on that one thing. If you can stand up, do that, and focus on the one thing. Do what you can, step by step, until you reach the point where you truly cannot go further. 
It was exactly what I needed to hear, too. Because I think that's what God asks of us: to do every single thing we can do. 
God doesn't ask me to handle this whole impossible thing: in this moment, I'm being asked to do what's required for this moment. That's all. And that I can do. It's the old, "Take care of the moment, and you take care of eternity" thing.
 Read the rest.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

And now for something a cappella

Here's something fun for you.

It earns style points for taking a familiar song and making it sound new by barbershopping it.

And here's a piece from the archives, with 2/3 of the siblings making a joyful noise.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Michael Sean Winters and the LCWR

I'm not generally a huge fan of National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters. Too often, with him as with opposite numbers on the conservative side, the Church seems to be used as much as a cudgel as an inspiration. However, that makes it all the more impressive to see him doing some serious self reflection of the sort we should all hope ourselves capable of in the wake of Pope Francis solidly getting behind the CDF investigation into doctrinal issues at the Leadership Council of Women Religious.

The announcement Monday that Pope Francis had reaffirmed the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious forces those on the left to reconsider their expectations. Yes, yes, I know. The doctrinal assessment was handled badly. Yes, the assessment was hatched stateside by priests and prelates without the courage to do the task themselves. Yes, the relationship of power between the bishops and the sisters is a large one and, for the sisters, it is understandable that any investigation will be welcomed as an attack. But if you find yourself loving Pope Francis and you cannot dismiss him as many on the left dismissed Benedict XVI, and he is willing to see the process through, I think you have to ask yourself if it is time for you to reassess your own prejudices in this regard: Maybe there really are doctrinal difficulties at the LCWR. I gotta tell you, they lost me with that choice of a keynote speaker who wants to "move beyond Jesus." But the oversight proposed as a remedy by the Vatican was entrusted to Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who is a very good man, and in this case it is perhaps more significant that he is a kind man. With or without a new pope, I suspect Sartain and the LCWR will find a way to move forward together.

This got him a lot of backlash in the NCR comboxes, some of it centered around his use of the phase they lost me with that choice of a keynote speaker who wants to "move beyond Jesus." when the speaker had in fact listed moving beyond Jesus as only one of four options for religious communities. However, Winters instead doubled down on his critique:
I was criticized, both in the comments and by emails from people I respect for my post which included an inadequate characterization of Sr. Laurie Brink’s keynote address at an LCWR conference which, in turn, became one of the items mentioned in the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR.

The key sentence I wrote, and regret, was this: “I gotta tell you. They lost me with that choice of a keynote speaker who wants to ‘move beyond Jesus.’” Sr. Brink did not, in fact, say she wants to “move beyond Jesus” and it was sloppy shorthand for me to say that she did.

I decided it was a good idea to go back and re-read Sr. Brink’s talk and, unfortunately, I must say that it is even worse than my mischaracterization suggested. It is true that she did not advocate moving beyond Jesus. It is also true that the speech, in its entirety, is not only the kind of theological talk that is likely to catch the attention of the CDF, it is the kind of theological talk that deserves to catch the attention of the CDF.
Sr. Brink begins her talk by expressing her enthusiasm for post-modernism. “One of the benefits of Post-Modernism—the wholesale critique of modernity and its reliance on objectivity and western assumptions that there is one obtainable ‘Truth’— is that we are more readily able to recognize the place of subjectivity. If you and I look at the same cluster of clouds, we will doubtlessly see something different. It might look like a giant hand to me, but a spreading tree to you. Post-modernism allows that both you and I are correct. We are simply viewing the same thing through a different lens.” Of course, I share Sr. Brink’s distaste for modernity’s over-reliance on the power of Cartesian reason, but I do not respond to this distaste by ordering an entrĂ©e of post-modernist drivel. I respond, as I think Christians must, by discerning a deeper understanding of reason, one that is open to revelation and, just so, to the Paschal Mystery in which objectivity and subjectivity are brought together in the person of Jesus Christ.

Sr. Brink writes this about the four possible directions in which religious life is moving in the U.S. “In light of my own experience, conversations with myriad other religious and critical reflection on the signs of the times, I can recognize four different general ‘directions’ in which religious congregations seem to be moving. Not one of the four is better or worse than the others. The difficulty lies not in the directions themselves but in getting the congregation as a whole to discern together the best approach and to commit together to that end.” The “moving beyond Jesus” theme is one of these “four different general directions.” So, while it is true that at the end of her talk, she advocates a different direction, here, in setting out the four general directions, she affirms that “Not one of the four is better or worse than the others. The difficulty lies not in the directions themselves…” So, yes, she does not say that “moving beyond Jesus” is for her, but, trapped in her post-modern paradigm, moving beyond Jesus is no better or worse than not moving beyond Jesus. My friends – this is the dictatorship of relativism.
I covered some other LCRW keynote speaker loopiness in these pages last year.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Economic or Political Problems

RR Reno has a thought-provoking post at First Things about what to do in the wake of the triumph of capitalism. It is, I think, a pretty good summation of the problems which modern society faces, as planned economies are increasingly seen even by their former proponents as untenable. However, I would take a slight issue with part of the conclusion:
If we wake up from our dreams we’ll see what the postmodern left already sees, which is that the explosive growth of economic freedom in recent decades has created two very large social problems.

• Greater economic freedom has brought greater economic inequality, as it always has in the modern era. Those with sufficient capital, talent, and ambition are able to use their greater freedom to exploit opportunities and capture efficiencies. Others fall behind. This is a threat to social solidarity.

• Greater economic freedom accelerates the rate of creative destruction, again, as it always has in the modern era. This means that communities, and even nations, organized around existing industries and types of employment are increasingly vulnerable to dislocation and disintegration. This too is a threat to social stability.

These are not economic problems, and therefore cannot be addressed by increasing economic freedom, as the Romney campaign imagined. In the broadest sense of the term, they are political problems, as the social problems associated with the explosive successes of capitalism have always been in the modern era. Dealing with them will require political and not economic approaches. [emphasis in original]

I think Reno pretty well identifies the problem which modern society faces: It's clear that free market economies create unprecedented growth, but at a political level societies need to figure out how to ameliorate their side effects without cutting off the growth itself. He's also right that there's a "postmodern left" which already sees this. As libertarians enjoy cheekily pointing out, Europe's social democracies have in recent years been trying things which only the most libertarian in the US have proposed, such a privatizing the post office.

The thing is misses is that there's a reactionary left, of sorts, which holds that this isn't a political problem, but rather an economic one. That there's a way that "the system" could be reformed such that the economy itself would work in some more egalitarian fashion. We're not in an odd situation in which nostalgia for the 30s through the 50s is widespread in a certain sector of the left, which holds that the economy was much better then.

It seems to me that the jury is still out on whether the backward-looking or the free market left is likely to be the dominant force of the left in the coming years in the US, and obviously it's a lot easier for the right (which has been arguing against forms of socialism for the last century) to respond to the backward looking left which is a familiar adversary than to come up with an alternative political vision to that of the free market left -- which after all is more similar to the free market right vision anyway.

Police State For A Day?

Like most people with an eye on the news, my main reaction to the day-long manhunt in Boston on Friday was relief that the second bombing suspect was apprehended without further bombings or loss of life. While the lockdown was in place, I noticed a few people commenting that shutting down an entire major city (at a cost of at least hundreds of millions of dollars) in order to hunt for one guy seemed like kind of an over-reaction, and I found myself agreeing, though it didn't bother me a great deal as I figured that it might save some lives and that people would probably be pretty unproductive while watching the news all day, so just shutting things down wouldn't be a big loss.

After it was all over, I saw a link to this post from a libertarian point of view about the whole thing, and it's caused me to think a bit.

Parts of the post strike me as over played (being a 19-year-old student doesn't necessarily mean someone isn't dangerous, a 19-year-old with a lot of high explosives could be as much of a threat as a thirty-year-old) but watching the second linked video, where homeowners are ordered out of their house at gunpoint so that police can search inside for the suspect, I think you do have to ask yourself: However real the threat, does this set a precedent for giving up way too many of our rights, of our expectations for how we as a society treat each other even when we're searching for a bad-guy? Unless the police have a substantive reason for believing that a homeowner is sheltering a suspect (some sort of probable cause other than "we know he's around here somewhere") do they have any business pointing guns at ordinary citizens while demanding that they vacate their house so it can be searched?

I'm not losing massive amounts of sleep over this. Where as a conservative I differ from a libertarian point of view is that I have a certain faith in the reasonableness of the great mass of ordinary people who make up society. And so I think even if this kind of thing is tolerated in a situation where a whole city is desperately rooting for the police to find one high profile suspect, that people would very quickly turn around and demand their rights if these sort of liberties were taken by the authorities frequently. But I do think that libertarians are right to bring this up as a cause for concern. This is not how a civilized society should police itself.

And there's the wonderfully Chestertonian point that a whole day of armored vehicles and heavily armed officers searching the streets could not discover the suspect, but when ordinary people were finally let out of their homes, within an hour an ordinary bloke going into his backyard to smoke did.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"By innocence I swear!": The Ladies Perform

Twelfth Night Act III Scene1

Viola/Cesario: Eleanor
Olivia: Julia

This is cut down a bit, both so as not to run too long for tomorrow's homeschool speech meet, and for the comprehension of the young actors. This is a fun scene for Olivia especially, because she's so changeable, but Viola has several different shifts as well, and we tried to capture those.

I was hard put to make sense of Olivia's "Do not extort thy reasons from this clause" speech in order to interpret it for the girls, but we just decided in the end that Olivia just wasn't making a lot of sense there anyway.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Did You Expect?

Judith Grossman, who starts out by assuring her readers that she is a feminist, has a somewhat perplexing opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. She writes:
It began with a text of desperation. "CALL ME. URGENT. NOW."

That was how my son informed me that not only had charges been brought against him but that he was ordered to appear to answer these allegations in a matter of days. There was no preliminary inquiry on the part of anyone at the school into these accusations about behavior alleged to have taken place a few years earlier, no consideration of the possibility that jealousy or revenge might be motivating a spurned young ex-lover to lash out. Worst of all, my son would not be afforded a presumption of innocence.
On today's college campuses, neither "beyond a reasonable doubt," nor even the lesser "by clear and convincing evidence" standard of proof is required to establish guilt of sexual misconduct.

These safeguards of due process have, by order of the federal government, been replaced by what is known as "a preponderance of the evidence." What this means, in plain English, is that all my son's accuser needed to establish before a campus tribunal is that the allegations were "more likely than not" to have occurred by a margin of proof that can be as slim as 50.1% to 49.9%.

How does this campus tribunal proceed to evaluate the accusations? Upon what evidence is it able to make a judgment?

The frightening answer is that like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, the tribunal does pretty much whatever it wants, showing scant regard for fundamental fairness, due process of law, and the well-established rules and procedures that have evolved under the Constitution for citizens' protection. Who knew that American college students are required to surrender the Bill of Rights at the campus gates?

My son was given written notice of the charges against him, in the form of a letter from the campus Title IX officer. But instead of affording him the right to be fully informed, the separately listed allegations were a barrage of vague statements, rendering any defense virtually impossible. The letter lacked even the most basic information about the acts alleged to have happened years before. Nor were the allegations supported by any evidence other than the word of the ex-girlfriend.

The hearing itself was a two-hour ordeal of unabated grilling by the school's committee, during which, my son later reported, he was expressly denied his request to be represented by counsel or even to have an attorney outside the door of the room. The questioning, he said, ran far afield even from the vaguely stated allegations contained in the so-called notice. Questions from the distant past, even about unrelated matters, were flung at him with no opportunity for him to give thoughtful answers.

The many pages of written documentation that my son had put together—which were directly on point about his relationship with his accuser during the time period of his alleged wrongful conduct—were dismissed as somehow not relevant. What was relevant, however, according to the committee, was the unsworn testimony of "witnesses" deemed to have observable knowledge about the long-ago relationship between my son and his accuser.

Now, I read this over, and I think myself thinking: What did you expect?

When it comes to accusations of rape, which is what her son is accused of, although she can't quite bring herself to use the word, our society is faced with two contradictory priorities. On the one hand, we rightly don't want to severely punish someone for a crime they did not commit. Avoiding punishing innocent people means having a high standard of evidence, a statute of limitations which makes it impossible to prosecute crimes too old to have clear evidence available, a presumption of innocence, etc. However, at the same time, society wants to provide redress for victims of crimes, particularly crimes which people may feel shame in relation to being the victims of, without putting them through the ringer. They've already suffered from the crime itself, why make them suffer more in trying to get justice for it.

Society has a sort of uneasy truce between these priorities by allowing semi-private institutions such as colleges, employers, etc. to censure people pretty easily, with comparatively light consequences, while keeping the burden of proof comparatively low. If Ms. Grossman has been hanging around feminist circles as much as she says, she should know that the reason why her son's hearing worked the way that it did was because people have been seeking to make raising accusations less onerous for rape victims. This is a pretty good idea for various reasons, and while I don't doubt that her son's experience was very distressing, he was declared not guilty, so it seems that in this case "the system worked".

The thing is, you can't have a system which is easy on both the accuser and the accused. Being the victim of a crime is distressing. Being accused of committing a crime is distressing. Any system has to come up with some sort of balance between the rights of the accuser and the accused, and there are reasons that Grossman should be familiar with for the particular balance that society has struck. That's not to say that it's the best possible balance, but let's be clear: Any change that would have made things easier on her son would also have made things harder on at least some actual rape victims. There is not a system that magically sorts out the guilty from the innocent without making things difficult for anyone.

This also, I think, points out a problem that many people run into when they start thinking in terms of statistics instead of individual events (or as they are derisively called in debate: anecdotes). It's often pointed out that it is a very infrequent occurrence for a woman to falsely accuse a specific man of raping her. This stands to reason (successfully making a rape charge is a pretty grueling process and if the charge if false you stand a good chance of losing and ending up in even worse trouble) and those studies that I've seen bear this out. However, the fact that an event is infrequent does not mean that it doesn't happen. Say that only 0.5% of rape accusations are false. Well, that means that one out of every 200 people accused is innocent. That may sound like good odds if you're making a sociological statement, but it still really, really stinks to be that 1 out of 200 person. It's okay to decide how to deal with rape accusations based on a knowledge that accusations against specific people are not frequently false, but you still need to be very clear in formulating your position on such things that "not frequently" does not mean "never".

And since I'm taking the stand back and throwing stones approach to the story: I'll finish up by pointing out that while nothing is a complete protection against being wrongly accused of a crime (I'm finishing up reading a book about Captain Dreyfus, who was convicted of treason because his handwriting looked a bit like someone else's, he wasn't a super likeable guy, and he was Jewish), when it comes to being accused of rape at college, not having premarital sex at all is generally going to be a pretty good protection against charges.

Reading the Grand Jury Report on the Gosnell Case

In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan proposes a thought experiment:
Tell me yourself, I challenge you -- answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature -- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance -- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.
I was reminded of that passage this afternoon when I read the entire Grand Jury report on the Kermit Gosnell case:
pg. 101: After the baby was expelled, Cross noticed that he was breathing, though not for long. After about 10 to 20 seconds, while the mother was asleep, “the doctor just slit the neck,” said Cross. Gosnell put the boy’s body in a shoebox. Cross described the baby as so big that his feet and arms hung out over the sides of the container. Cross said that she saw the baby move after his neck was cut, and after the doctor placed it in the shoebox. Gosnell told her, “it’s the baby’s reflexes. It’s not really moving.” 
The neonatologist testified that what Gosnell told his people was absolutely false. If a baby moves, it is alive. Equally troubling, it feels a “tremendous amount of pain” when its spinal cord is severed. So, the fact that Baby Boy A. continued to move after his spinal cord was cut with scissors means that he did not die instantly. Maybe the cord was not completely severed. In any case, his few moments of life were spent in excruciating pain.

Gosnell was an eager butcher, one who was willing to torture babies for women under the desperate illusion that they could attain "peace and rest at last" through this "foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim", as Ivan puts it. He had a psychopathic distain for the external nicetices of the abortion business: the sterile clinic, the efficient staff, the quiet, hidden murder and the quick disposal of the bodies. It was all in the open at 3801 N. Lancaster St., insanely blatant in the sheer horrific scale of murder, murders of babies born alive, infanticide, violations of the Controlled Substances Act, hindering, obstruction, and tampering, perjury, illegal late-term abortions, violations of the Abortion Control Act, violations of the Controlled Substances Act, abuse of corpse, theft by deception, conspiracy, corrupt organization, and corruption of minors.

Think I'm exaggerating? Those are the charges recommended against Gosnell and members of his staff by the appalled Grand Jury (pg. 219).

This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable, babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths. Over the years, many people came to know that something was going on here. But no one put a stop to it. 
Let us say right up front that we realize this case will be used by those on both sides of the abortion debate. We ourselves cover a spectrum of personal beliefs about the morality of abortion. For us as a criminal grand jury, however, the case is not about that controversy; it is about disregard of the law and disdain for the lives and health of mothers and infants. We find common ground in exposing what happened here, and in recommending measures to prevent anything like this from ever happening again. (pg. 1)

The outrage of the Grand Jury is palpable throughout the entire document. Although it beggars belief, the report was even more terrible than the brief clips you may have seen quoted in articles make it out to be. For those interested in the case who want to read it, but are (like me) not eager to view graphic photos, I've noted down the pages on which the most disturbing images appear:

page 47 -- sealed trash bags containing fetal remains (not graphic, but conceptually disturbing)
page 74 -- baby feet in jars
page 85 -- baby girl, intact (looks like a newborn, stretched out, no cord, no visible mutilations)
page 102 -- baby boy A (baby curled in a box with his cord, no visible mutilations)
page 115 -- baby boy with back of his neck slit

There are other photos of the exterior and interior of the clinic in the report, and though people of conscience will be appalled that anyone was treated in such squalid circumstances, the above photos are only ones that are of babies.

Many reporters and bloggers have quoted passages on the horrors of Gosnell's practice -- the gruesome deaths of babies; the callous treatment of women; the underage employee who was sometimes the only staff member in the clinic while women were being medicated and delivering babies; the filthy clinic with its fetal remains in refrigerators, its bloody recliners and blankets for laboring women, and the stench of cat urine permeating the air -- and I won't detail those again here. Every unbelievable incident is there in the report, and is even more horrifying read in the context of Gosnell's for-profit "baby charnel house" (pg 2):

The people who ran this sham medical practice included no doctors other than Gosnell himself, and not even a single nurse. Two of his employees had been to medical school, but neither of them were licensed physicians. They just pretended to be. Everyone called them “Doctor,” even though they, and Gosnell, knew they weren’t. Among the rest of the staff, there was no one with any medical licensing or relevant certification at all. But that didn’t stop them from making diagnoses, performing procedures, administering drugs. 
Because the real business of the “Women’s Medical Society” was not health; it was profit. There were two primary parts to the operation. By day it was a prescription mill; by night an abortion mill. A constant stream of “patients” came through during business hours and, for the proper payment, left with scripts for Oxycontin and other controlled substances, for themselves and their friends. Gosnell didn’t see these “patients”; he didn’t even show up at the office during the day. He just left behind blank, pre-signed prescription pads, and had his unskilled, unauthorized workers take care of the rest. The fake prescriptions brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But this drug-selling operation is the subject of separate investigation by federal authorities. 
Our focus was on the other side of the business. 
Murder in plain sight 
With abortion, as with prescriptions, Gosnell’s approach was simple: keep volume high, expenses low – and break the law. That was his competitive edge.

Unlicensed personnel dispensing dangerous overdoses of drugs sounds like a bad, if rather remote, charge to the medically untrained ear, but section V of the report, The Death Of Karnamaya Mongar (pgs. 117-136), not only makes vividly clear what the practice and consequences of that behavior look like, but is gripping reading.

This financial angle is clear from Appendix B, a copy of the clinic's Anesthesia for Surgery form, which allows patients to select their level of medication based on price, up to an additional $150 charge for "custom sleep", which involved dosages of medications (never tailored to the individual woman) which horrified external medical examiners. The consent form and price list includes these introductory guidelines, which I've typed from the photocopy in the appendix:
You have already decided that a procedure is best for you. (Next words unclear from the copy; probably "Now you need to assess the") type of pain relief. It will probably be best to pay the extra money and be more comfortable if some of the following conditions are true for you: 
1. The decision to have the procedure is a difficult decision.
2. Medication is usually (unclear; probably "necessary for your menstrual cramps.")
3. Your decision has been forced by your parents or partner.
4. Your family members or friends "don't like pain."
Guidelines 3 and 4 make it pretty clear that Gosnell cared more about profiting from sales of medication than about the health and safety of the women who sought his care. One of the appalling factors in the case is that Kermit Gosnell had a decades-old reputation for the horrific treatment of pregnant women seeking abortions.

pgs. 96-97: Randy Hutchins testified that Gosnell told him about what has been called the “Mother’s Day Massacre.” According to a February 25, 2010, article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Gosnell offered to perform abortions on 15 poor women who were bused to his clinic from Chicago on Mother’s Day 1972, in their second trimester of pregnancy. Unbeknownst to the women, Gosnell planned to use an experimental device called a “super coil” developed by a California man named Harvey Karman, who had run an underground abortion service in the 1950s. Hutchins related what Gosnell explained to him: 
"At the time that he agreed to do this, there was a device that he and a psychologist were working on that was supposed to be plastic – basically plastic razors that were formed into a ball. All right. They were coated into a gel, so that they would remain closed. These would be inserted into the woman’s uterus. And after several hours of body temperature, it would then – the gel would melt and these things would spring open, supposedly cutting up the fetus, and the fetus would be expelled.
"The problem was that they never tested it. They didn’t test it on any animals. They never did any – any – any other human trials. This was not something that was sanctioned by the FDA. This was just something that he decided – he and this guy decided they were going to use on these women. "
Hutchins actually was mistaken in his belief that no other human trials been conducted. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer article, Karman had tested his device on hundreds of Bangladeshi women who had been raped by Pakistani soldiers. Those women suffered a high rate of complications. Nonetheless, Karman brought his “super coil” to Philadelphia, where he found an ally in Gosnell.

It's impossible that none of these horrors could have escaped official attention, and indeed, the report finds that time and again, complaints were ignored, inspections were either not made or were too cursory to be serious, and those entrusted with public safety willfully turned a blind eye to Gosnell and his practice because his practice was abortion. The sheer scope of the malfeasance is staggering. The Grand Jury names names and calls out officials at every level of government.

pgs 215-217
Had state and local officials performed their duties properly, Gosnell’s clinic would have been shut down decades ago. Gosnell would have lost the medical license that he used to inflict irreparable harm on women; to illegally abort viable, late-term fetuses; and to kill innumerable babies outside the womb. 
Had DOH treated the clinic as the ambulatory surgical facility it was, DOH inspectors would have assured that the staff were all licensed, that the facility was clean and sanitary, that anesthesia protocols were followed, and that the building was properly equipped and could, at least, accommodate stretchers. Failure to comply with these standards would have given cause for DOH to revoke the facility’s license to operate. 
If inspectors had looked solely for violations of Pennsylvania’s abortion regulations, there would have been ample grounds to revoke the approval of Gosnell’s clinic as an abortion provider – as was demonstrated when DOH inspectors finally entered the facility in February 2010.
Had state inspectors reviewed patient files, they would inevitably have noticed that Gosnell was routinely performing abortions without informed consent from patients or signed consent from parents. His files revealed that he was performing numerous illegal abortions at “24.5 weeks,” in itself a confession of criminality. Gosnell, moreover, almost never had the required pathology reports for second-trimester abortions. 
Had DOH inspectors spoken to the workers, they might well have discovered that Gosnell’s procedure included severing the spinal cords of babies born alive. Revoking his approval to perform abortions would have been simple. But no one from DOH set foot in Gosnell’s clinic for over 16 years. 
The Department of State prosecutors did not even need to go looking for reasons to revoke Gosnell’s medical license. Complaints came to them. Marcella Choung, the former Gosnell employee, spelled out his entire criminal operation for them. Complaints of perforated uteruses and bowels; of a patient’s death from a botched procedure that resulted in a $900,000 settlement; and of family members physically barred from summoning emergency help, were all sent to Department of State attorneys. Yet the department considered none of these complaints serious enough to take action against Gosnell. 
Had the Philadelphia Department of Public Health reported to state officials all that its employees knew or suspected about filthy facilities, fraud, the unlicensed practice of medicine, anesthesia chosen by patients based on cost, infectious waste improperly
handled and stored, and vaccines stored next to medical waste, perhaps state authorities would have taken action against Gosnell and Women’s Medical Society. 
And had fellow doctors, the ones who treated the women after Gosnell butchered them, demanded the attention of DOH and the Board of Medicine, that too might have made a difference. 
We don’t know. We only know what happened when none of these people did what they should have.

It's not uncommon to hear, during the reporting on some scandal, the complaint, "If only women has been in charge [of the Catholic Church, of the government, of the police force, etc.], none of this would have happened." Well, here we are: an industry that purports to be about women's health, and from the Departments of Health and State down to the doctors at nearby hospitals and the local pharmacy, no one did anything. Complaints were ignored or buried -- by women.
pg 142: According to DOH witnesses, sometime after 1993, DOH instituted a policy of inspecting abortion clinics only when there was a complaint. In fact, as this Grand Jury’s investigation makes clear, the department did not even do that. 
Janice Staloski, one of the evaluators of Gosnell’s clinic in 1992, 10 years later was the Director of DOH’s Division of Home Health – the unit that is inexplicably responsible for overseeing the quality of care in abortion clinics. In January 2002, an attorney representing Semika Shaw, a 22-year-old woman who had died following an abortion at Gosnell’s clinic, wrote to Staloski requesting copies of inspection reports for any on-site inspections of the clinic conducted by DOH. Staloski wrote to the attorney that no inspections had been conducted since 1993 because DOH had received no complaints about the clinic in that time. 
Except that it had. In 1996, another attorney, representing a different patient of Gosnell’s, informed Staloski’s predecessor as director of the Home Health Division that his client had suffered a perforated uterus, requiring a radical hysterectomy, as a result of Gosnell’s negligence. The Home Health director discussed this patient with DOH Senior Counsel Kenneth Brody, and the complaint report was documented in records turned over to the Grand Jury. It was surely available to Staloski when she inaccurately told the attorney in January 2002 that DOH had received no complaints regarding Gosnell’s clinic.

pg 149-152: Without regular inspections, providers like Gosnell continue to operate; unlawful and dangerous third-trimester abortions go undetected; and many women, especially poor women, suffer. These are all consequences of DOH’s abdication of its responsibility. 
Moreover, even if Staloski was instructed not to conduct regular, annual inspections, that does not explain why she failed to order inspections when complaints were received. It is clear to us that she was made aware, numerous times, that serious incidents had occurred at Gosnell’s clinic. These incidents, which evidenced alarming as well as illegal long-standing patterns of behavior, warranted investigation. Yet, in all the years she worked at the department, Staloski never ordered even one inspection. 
Not even Karnamaya Mongar’s death triggered an inspection or investigation. 
On November 24, 2009, Gosnell sent a fax to the department, followed by a letter addressed to Staloski, notifying DOH that Karnamaya Mongar had died following an abortion at his clinic. (Gosnell’s letter inaccurately stated that the second day of her procedure was November 18.) Darlene Augustine, a registered nurse and health quality administrator in the department’s Division of Home Health, received the fax. 
Augustine, who supervises surveyors who respond to and investigate complaints at health care facilities, testified that she immediately notified her boss, Cynthia Boyne. (Boyne had become director of DOH’s Division of Home Health in 2007, when Staloski was promoted to head the Bureau of Community Licensure and Certification.) Augustine said that she told Boyne on November 25 that DOH should immediately go out to the clinic and initiate an investigation. Augustine acknowledged that she generally had the authority to send surveyors out to investigate – and she often did so within an hour of receiving a notice of a serious event such as a death. She testified, however, that she felt she needed Director Boyne’s approval because Gosnell’s notice involved an abortion clinic. 
Boyne did not give her approval. Instead, she went to the bureau director, Staloski, to discuss the matter. Augustine explained that abortion clinics were treated differently from other medical facilities because Staloski had for years overseen the department’s handling of complaints and inspections – or lack of inspections – relating to abortion clinics. Staloski, according to Augustine, was “the ultimate decision-maker” with respect to whether DOH would conduct an inspection or investigation. Augustine testified that neither Boyne nor Staloski ever gave her approval to conduct the investigation that she thought was appropriate. 
Boyne blamed Staloski. She said that her boss told her that DOH did not have the authority to investigate Mrs. Mongar’s death. Staloski apparently reached this decision on her own, without ever consulting Brody, the legal counsel. Staloski, according to Boyne, was only interested in making sure that Gosnell filed an on-line report in accordance with a 2002 law, the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act. That law requires health care facilities to report serious events, including deaths to DOH. 40 P.S. §313. 
Staloski’s plan, Boyne said, was to then charge Gosnell with failing to file the report in a timely and proper manner. This is absurd, and Boyne should not have accepted such a ridiculous idea. Gosnell had reported Mrs. Mongar’s death to DOH on November 24, 2009. While this was three or fours days late, and the notification came by fax and letter rather than computer, it is preposterous to think that Staloski, who had ignored two deaths and other serious injuries at the clinic, would take action against a doctor for filing a report three days late. Staloski was absolutely wrong about DOH’s lack of authority to investigate Mrs. Mongar’s death. 
Appallingly, the chief counsel for the department of health, Christine Dutton, defended Staloski’s inaction following Mrs. Mongar’s death. Dutton testified that she had reviewed the emails and documents showing that Staloski and her staff were communicating with Gosnell’s office to get him to file the MCARE form. Based on these very minimal efforts, Dutton insisted: “we were responsive.” Pushed as to whether the death of a woman following an abortion should have prompted more action – perhaps an investigation or a report to law enforcement – Dutton argued there was no reason to think the death was suspicious. “People die,” she said. 
Not only was a probe into Mrs. Mongar’s death authorized and appropriate under the Abortion Control Act, it was required under the MCARE law. 40 P.S. §306. Yet DOH did not investigate. Staloski told the Grand Jury that she remembered reviewing with Boyne the letter in which Gosnell notified DOH of Mrs. Mongar’s death. Staloski said that it was really Boyne’s responsibility to order an investigation, but acknowledged that she, as the bureau director, also failed to do so. Instead of conducting an investigation, Staloski and Boyne concerned themselves with badgering Gosnell to re-notify them of Mrs. Mongar’s death. 
Bureau Director Staloski, in fact, readily acknowledged many deficiencies in DOH’s, and her own, oversight of abortion facilities. But her dismissive demeanor indicated to us that she did not really understand – or care about – the devastating impact that the department’s neglect had had on the women whom Gosnell treated in his filthy, dangerous clinic. Staloski excused the DOH practices that enabled Gosnell to operate in the manner that killed Ms. Shaw, Mrs. Mongar, and untold numbers of babies. She simply said the abortion regulations – written by DOH – do not require DOH to inspect abortion clinics. 
When DOH inspectors finally entered Gosnell’s clinic in February 2010, not at Staloski’s direction but at the urging of law enforcement, Staloski seemed more annoyed than appalled or embarrassed. On the morning after the raid, she received a copy of an email that Boyne wrote to Brody the night of the raid. Boyne reported to the department’s senior counsel that, at 12:45 a.m., she had told the Department of Health staff members at the clinic to “wrap it up and secure lodging in the interest of their safety.” Boyne told Brody that the “staff walked into a very difficult setup.” She complained that a representative of the District Attorney’s Office was “badgering” DOH staff to shut down the facility immediately. Boyne was seeking Brody’s legal guidance.
Staloski’s response to Boyne’s email was: “I’d say we were used.” Boyne’s reply: “Bingo.” 
Staloksi, the woman most directly responsible for the department’s oversight of abortion facilities, told the Grand Jury: “I haven’t been in any facilities in probably – in an abortion facility in many, many years.” The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve far better from those charged with protecting public health and safety.
The malfeasance is in evidence at every level, from the policy of turning a blind eye to abortion clinic management at the highest levels to Philadephia's banal, revenue-grabbing bureaucratic infectious waste management plan program:
pgs 204-207: Years earlier, in August 2003, another branch of the city’s health department had received an anonymous complaint about Women’s Medical Society. Mandi Davis, a sanitation specialist in the environmental engineering section, wrote a memo to a colleague at the department, Ken Gruen, with a copy to then-Assistant Health Commissioner Izzat Melhem. She informed them that she had received a “rather disturbing” complaint of aborted fetuses stored in paper bags in an employee refrigerator at Gosnell’s clinic.
Davis requested that a site visit be conducted to assure that proper infectious- waste handling and disposal practices were in place. Davis further instructed Gruen: “I am not expecting a ‘wild goose chase’ for aborted fetuses.” Current Philadelphia Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz testified that notations on the memo seem to indicate that a site visit was, in fact, made.
The city health department, however, could not produce any report of that site visit. Nor is there evidence that the department took any action against Gosnell for his dangerous handling of medical waste, or for his failure to have an approved infectious waste plan, as is required by the city Health Code.
A year later, Gosnell still had no approved disposal plan. On March 28, 2004, Davis sent Gosnell a letter stating that a “plan” he had submitted was “incomplete.” In fact, it was completely blank, except for the name and address of the clinic, some contact information, and an indication that it was a medical facility. On May 3, 2004, Davis sent another letter. This one was a form letter. Davis wrote:
Several years ago all Doctors practicing in Philadelphia received a letter from former Health Commissioner Estelle B. Richman explaining the need for the Department to have an infectious waste handling and disposal plan from your practice. The Commissioner’s letter explained the necessity for infectious waste to be properly containerized, stored, transported, and disposed in a manner to preclude any hazard to you, your staff, and patients, the community or the environment.
The letter noted that the city had never received a plan or a fee from the clinic. On May 7, 2004, a city health department inspector was sent to the clinic. His
report stated that proper labels were missing from areas where waste was stored; that red bag containers for infectious waste were not lidded; that marked boxes of infectious waste were sitting on the basement floor – not raised as they should be; that red bags for pick-up were not properly stored in the basement; and that the clinic did not provide a contract with a disposal company.
Gosnell subsequently produced some more paperwork, including a copy of a contract for disposal. However, he never paid his fee. The city never approved his medical waste plan. And he never cleaned up the infectious waste. Yet five years later, he was still operating. When the Grand Jurors toured the facility in 2010, boxes of waste were still sitting on the basement floor. Gosnell still stored aborted fetuses in plastic containers in the freezer. Employees described a stench emitted by bags of fetal tissue that piled up in the clinic.
Commissioner Schwarz tried, unsatisfactorily, to explain why the city never enforced the regulations that purport to protect staff, patients, the community, and the environment. Protection of the public, according to Dr. Schwarz’s testimony, was not the real intent behind the regulations. The impetus for requiring doctors to have infectious waste plans approved by the city was not public health; it was revenue.
The city regulations required the city’s 10,000 providers to pay $100 for individuals, $250 for clinics, and $500 for institutions such as hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. But the regulations provided no guidance as to what the health department was supposed to do to enforce the plans once submitted. Dr. Schwarz related to the Grand Jury what he heard from people who were in the health department at the time:
The department was told, apparently, to collect the money, make sure the plan came in, get the fee, and not enforce, that is don’t take action against people but remind them. This is a revenue generating activity.
The department would only inspect or take action when there was a complaint about a provider’s infectious waste handling or disposal.
Then, according to what Dr. Schwarz was told, sometime in 2004 or 2005 – shortly after Davis sent to the clinic the form letter reminding delinquent medical providers to submit their waste plans and pay their fee – the department stopped trying to enforce the regulation against those who had not complied.
The health commissioner’s testimony might explain why the department did not pursue Gosnell for his failure to submit an adequate infectious waste plan or pay his fee. But it does not explain the department’s inaction after an inspector observed and reported Gosnell’s perilous storage and disposal of infectious waste in May 2004 (and probably in 2003, though we did not see that report).
There is no record to indicate that the health department ever checked to see if the dangerous conditions in the clinic had been remediated. It is clear from our investigation that they never were.

The report concludes with a series of fifteen recommendations for the prevention of future outrages -- note that none of these are current practice:

1. There should be no statute of limitations for infanticide.
2. The statute of limitations for illegal abortions beyond 24 weeks should be extended to five years.
3. Impersonating a doctor should be a crime. (There were two such frauds at the Gosnell clinic, "unlicensed phonies administering dangerous drugs to unsuspecting patients", pg. 248.)
4. The Abortion Control Act should be amended to prohibit the mutilation of fetal remains.
5. The Pennsylvania Department of Health should license abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical facilities.
6. The state Department of Health should update the regulations for abortion providers.
7. Pennsylvania’s Departments of Health and State should make their process for filing complaints against doctors and facilities simpler and more responsive.
8. Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health should develop a hotline to assist residents in filing complaints with the proper state and local authorities.
9. The Pennsylvania Departments of Health and State need to share information they receive that is pertinent to each other’s responsibilities.
10. The Department of State should train its prosecutors and provide the necessary tools so they can more effectively investigate complaints against doctors.
11. The Pennsylvania Departments of Health and State should be required to share with law enforcement information relevant to criminal investigations.
12. A task force including the Medical Examiner’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Police Department should work to improve protocols for investigating suspicious deaths.
13. The City of Philadelphia should enforce medical waste disposal plans that it requires from providers.
14. We recommend that the National Abortion Federation reconsider the inclusion of Atlantic Women’s Medical Services in Delaware in its membership. (Gosnell was affiliated with this clinic as well.)
15. The authorities responsible for overseeing, monitoring, or licensing Gosnell or his operation should conduct serious self-assessments to determine why their departments failed to protect the women and babies whose lives were imperiled at Gosnell’s clinic. Employees who failed to perform their jobs of protecting the public should be held accountable.
The report concludes:
pg. 261: It is not our job to say who should be fired or demoted. We believe, however, that anyone responsible for permitting Gosnell to operate as he did should face strong disciplinary action up to and including termination. This includes not only the people who failed to do the inspecting, the prosecuting, and the protecting, but also those at the top who obviously tolerated, or even encouraged, the inaction. (emphasis: original) 
The Department of State literally licensed Gosnell’s criminally dangerous behavior. DOH gave its stamp of approval to his facility. These agencies do not deserve the public’s trust. The fate of Karnamaya Mongar and countless babies with severed spinal cords is proof that people at those departments were not doing their jobs. Those charged with protecting the public must do better. 
Yes, they must.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Stillwater - 34

Once her formal duties accomplished, the rest of the ball was one hazy sigh of relief for Melly. Even her waltz with Ian was unobjectionable — almost frustratingly so. Melly wanted him to be objectionable, to give incontrovertible proof of his bad intentions to everyone. Instead, he was scrupulously chivalrous, paying simple compliments and drawing her no closer than a chaste arm’s-length. He wanted to talk about her and she had no interest in talking to him; they found neutral ground in discussing her brother. There was always lots to say about Rene and Ian could say it well. He could already spin anecdotes out of a week’s acquaintance. Melly was relieved that he carried the burden of conversation and gratified to hear him sing Rene’s praises, but still she thought she could probably throw him farther than she could trust him.

Otherwise, there was nothing left but to enjoy herself, and to her surprise, she did. Popularity was a new and heady drug. To be the center of attention without being reproached or teased or questioned, indeed to be admired by everyone, was very pleasant, if overwhelming. When she felt like dancing, she found that she was in high demand. When she needed to sit down (as she did frequently, to catch her breath), one of the good armchairs was instantly vacated. Plates of fruit and cheese and petit fours appeared at her elbow if she merely looked toward the dining room. She wondered if she ought to be ashamed of taking advantage of everyone’s generosity this way. Surely everyone would see right through her and know that she was only playing a part.

She said as much to Malcolm.

“Everyone’s playing a part tonight, Melly,” he said with a smile, but his eyes followed Alys around the room.

Malcolm was not enjoying his evening as much as she was hers, and although her heart ached for any unhappiness of his, a small hidden corner of it also rejoiced that Alys should be so obstinately animated tonight. Miss Winter was in rare form: teasing, laughing, elusive, unsatisfying and unsatisfied. Malcolm had not been able to pin her down to any serious topic; she had not been able to mock him out of his aspirations. There were plenty of gentlemen at the ball who were willing to play a bright game of words with Alys, though. Malcolm could only count on one female in the room to match his mood.

“Are you free, Melly?” he asked, with a smile that didn’t quite disguise his discouragement. “I think I’ll have that dance now. It will be a relief to spend three minutes with someone who doesn’t want to make stupid conversation. No one else in this room understands the value of peace and quiet.”

Peace and quiet she could give him, especially as the gentle lighting and the soft lullaby of the orchestra and the sedate step of the dance brought all of her bodily weariness to the fore. Nothing could be more natural than for her to lay her head on his shoulder as they traced stately figure-eights around the ball room, and of course he was so used to supporting her in moments of weakness that he thought nothing of holding her close. A blissful sense of solitude engulfed Melly. If she closed her eyes, the cacophony of the ball dimmed to a comforting hum as she concentrated on listening to Malcolm’s silence: the rustling of his coat against her ear, the reliable rhythm of his breathing, the deeper beating of his heart. She tried to match her breathing to his, but by the end of the dance, her fatigue coupled with the restraints of the uncomfortable corset made it difficult for her to take more than shallow gasps. Even before the last measures of the waltz, Malcolm was leading her to her chair.

“I think your night of dancing might be over, Melly,” he said. “You seem like you’re barely able to stand up anymore.”

This was no hardship for Melly, especially because she’d seen Ian approaching in hopes of claiming the next dance. Somehow she hadn’t found the right words to turn him down earlier, and now she could hear, to her annoyance, that her relief at having an easy excuse coupled with her natural diffidence made her refusal sound more regretful than she’d intended. Why couldn’t she just tell him no and go away? It wasn’t as if she wanted him to come back, but somehow, she couldn’t seem to find strong decisive words. Why was it so hard to be forceful? For a moment she wished she could be endowed with a bit of Sophia’s easy confidence. She had never had any trouble turning down invitations to dance at the balls; the floors had been strewn with her rejected suitors. But then of course, Melly had no idea how Sophia would have turned Ian down; that, apparently, was something she’d never done.

Melly wasn’t the only one sitting. Many dancers were now content to stay on the sidelines and watch the energetic few left on the floor. Richard and Cheryl had already made their farewells and gone upstairs. Now Rene materialized out of the crowd and drew up one of the little chairs next to Melly’s comfortable seat.

“Look at you, pauvre petite, all worn out already!” he teased, seizing her hand and chafing it vigorously. “Come on, what you need is one more dance with me!”

She protested, laughing, and he turned to Malcolm and Ian, both standing idle near her chair.

“All right, it’s too soon to close up shop, y’all,” he said, fixing the gentlemen with a stern eye. “If you won’t dance, you better drink. Melusine, what’ll you have?”

“Just water, please.”

“Malcolm, you coming?”

“Only to get Melly her water,” Malcolm said with mock solemnity. “I’ve already gone too many rounds with you tonight, Rene.”

Rene appealed to Ian. “You going to let me drink alone, bro? That’s harsh even for a Yankee bastard like Sherman.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” said Ian.

And drink they did. Over the decorous conversations and the music, snatches of banter and hoots of laughter could be heard from the bar as golden-haired Sherman and the wiry Zouave rebuilt the Union one glass at a time. Ian and Rene in full performance mode were a spectacle not to be missed, and few missed it — one gentleman, whose gray-swathed girth seemed to encompass the entire army of Northern Virginia, even tossed the riotous pair a hefty tip and later congratulated Esther on the entertainment.

“Best floor show I ever saw, ma’am,” he proclaimed. “Whatever you’re paying these boys, they’re worth every penny.”

Esther smiled brilliantly and made vivacious conversation to keep from grinding her teeth.

As the evening wore on even the orchestra had a hard time competing with Rene’s increasingly expansive diatribes when the topic swung around to Carson Winter.

“And then there’s his damn trolleyology,” he argued, pounding the bar and sending a few nice old dames fluttering out of the room, clucking indignantly at Ian’s wink. “All right, he’s got Desmond Tutu and President Obama and Bono on his trolley, and it’s going to hit Julian Assange giving a talk to three hundred school children on the tracks. But if I flip the switch to re-rout the trolley I destroy George Washington’s brain in a vat!”

“George Washington?” Ian was taken aback. “You found George Washington in one of Uncle Carson’s books? That’s kinda traditional for him.”

I put him in there,” said Rene. “Or maybe it’s Martin Luther King or Gandhi or the Surgeon General… Who cares? It don’t matter much since we’re just making shit up anyway.”

“Boys will be boys,” Alys said to Esther as they peered round the potted palms flanking the reception room entry to check up on the amiable pair holding court.

“Perhaps, but I wish they’d take it some place else,” Esther snapped. The ball, now winding down, had been a vast success (better than last year; everyone said so) but the bitterness of the lost queenship had given her evening’s triumph a sour edge. Now the unpredictability of Ian and Rene at the bar gave her the tight uneasy feeling of a situation about to slip out of her control — a figurative headache exacerbating a literal one.

“But the free alcohol is here,” Alys said, with a smile and a shrug of her pretty shoulders. She felt no need to be her brother’s keeper, particularly when he was keeping himself just fine. “Ian never gets drunk. I only hope Rene can keep up with him.”

Esther was about to issue a cutting retort, but prudence suggested that perhaps it was better to make a scapegoat of someone who wasn’t a paying guest. “I just don’t remember Rene being so boisterous in past years. Why can’t Melly keep him under control? She’s the Stillwater Queen, after all.”

“If only Sophia were here,” Alys said, with a gravely malicious courtesy. “How we all miss her!”

Rene was off to the races now and Ian was along for the ride, leaving in their wake a double line of shot glasses snaking across the glossy wood of the bar.

“But here’s the catch — the guy in the wheelchair had a brain injury, so he can’t fear death! I can throw him at the switch, and even as he’s flying toward the ground he’s thinking about his crawfish boil next Friday, calm as can be!”

“Hey, a crawfish boil sounds relaxing to me,” Ian said.

“You think so, cap? You ever seen Cajuns at a crawfish boil? That’s how he got his brain injury.”

Melly, who had crept over to join Alys behind the palms as soon as Esther had departed, remembered a crawfish boil she’d been to when she was little. Mounds of vivid scarlet crawfish boiled up with Tony Chachere’s seasoning were piled high above her head on tables covered in newsprint. Nestled in among the hundreds of feelers and claws and thousand of legs and the bulging black eyes were cut ears of corn, new potatoes, onions, andouille sausages, halved lemons, and here and there a stiff little flag of a bay leaf rising defiantly from the steaming heaps. Melly had been jostled and hustled by cousins, aunts, uncles, and assorted good-timers to the edge of the table, where she stood, pressed by the laughing, shouting, drinking crowd, eye to eye with a big horrible crawfish. Shifting as best she could, she bumped up against her uncle Earl as she reached for a potato.

“You know the etiquette at a crawfish boil, yeah, pichouette?” he asked her, his eyes twinkling.


With a swift elbow, he shoved her aside and grabbed her potato first.

Now Melly wanted to laugh at the memory, but her fatigue and her corset didn’t seem to want her to do much more than snort gently. Alys turned to look at her.

“I thought you were supposed to be sitting down, milady,” she said. Melly flushed guiltily and felt the familiar unreasonable compulsion to offer an earnest explanation where none was expected.

“I wanted to see what Rene was doing. He sounds like he’s having such a good time.” She wasn’t worried about Rene at the bar; he was never drunk.

“And here I thought you might possibly have wondered where Ian had gotten to.”

A fear, until now only a nagging and murky apprehension, suddenly crystallized in Melly’s mind. Although Alys had frustrated Malcolm with her constant teasing, she had generally been kindly, almost familial, to Melly. She wasn’t teasing with these constant references to Ian; it seemed that she honestly intended to pay a compliment by insinuating that Melly had attracted his attention. The alarming implications of this needed to be worked out more fully when Melly had a quiet moment to think, but as mendacity was not among Alys’s character quirks, it was unlikely that she would try to ingratiate herself by lying about her brother’s affections. Alys thought that Ian liked Melly, and Alys knew her brother about as well as anyone did.

The boys, the only occupants left at the bar, had grown more boisterous with time and fine liquor, and Melly realized that she’d missed some key development. Ian was chortling and slapping a gleeful Rene on the back. The two were in that happy stage of inebriation in which genius and fellowship were magnified.

“I’d love to see you say that to his face!” Ian howled. “No one says that sort of thing to his face. It’d be good for him. It’d be good for me.”

“I’d say it to his face right now!” Rene declared, his formerly lacquered curls now crackling with belligerent energy . “You get me to New York, and I will smite him a philosophical blow with my jawbone of righteousness.”

Several waves of speculation washed across Ian’s expression.

“So if I get you to NY, you’d say it to his face?”

“I’d say it to his face with bows on it!”

“But if I got you to New York, would you say it?” Ian insisted. “Just like you’re saying it now?”

“I speak now with drunken eloquence, cap, but yeah, the phrasing would be similar. I will buy you a case of the best damn bourbon you can name if I don’t say it.”

Ian was triumphant.

“All right. Let’s go. Tonight. Right now.”

There was a pause. Rene passed his hand over his mustache and observed his companion.

“You want to drive to New York tonight?”

“Driving is for suckers, pal. Sports like you and me fly the friendly skies.”

“Okay.” Rene was willing to play along. “You got tickets?”

“Tickets, nothing.” Ian sat with professorial dignity on a stool and elaborately ticked off his points on his fingers. “One, I got a buddy Jim. Two, Jim’s got a private jet. Three, he flew it down to New Orleans this week and hopped a boat out to his oil platform. Four, he said to me, he said, ‘Hey, you wanna fly home sometime this week? The jet’s just parked here and I gotta pay the pilot regardless.’ Five, I’m gonna call up his assistant right now, and we’re Going to New York Tonight.” He prodded Rene in the chest for emphasis.

Rene was almost taken aback.

“Damn, bro, you don’t kid around.”

“Sure.” With a wave, Ian dismissed all kidders . “I just gotta give the pilot a few hours’ notice, roust him out of whatever low rent strip club he’s hanging out at, and we’re good.”

“All right, pull out your phone. I want to see you call this guy.”

“All right, I’m gonna do it.”

“I won’t believe it ’til I see it, bro.”

“I’m calling Jim’s assistant now.”

Melly had been so absorbed in these unexpected developments that a touch on her shoulder made her jump. Malcolm, finally relieved of some of his social duties as son of the house, was right behind her, observing the scene with a weary gravity.

“I get this sinking feeling that I’m two seconds too late to stop something ill-advised,” he said, sighing.

‘On the contrary,” said Alys. “You’re just in time for the grand finale.”

The three of them still hovered conspiratorially behind the palms as Ian took a couple of swipes and jabs at his phone and managed to speak in a remarkably clear and not-exactly-seductive voice.

“Hey Maggie, this is Ian Winter. How are you? Well, I’m all right, too, now that I’m talking to you. Listen, is Jim’s plane still parked down in New Orleans? I’m taking him up on his offer to borrow it for a run up to New York. Yeah, I’m thinking tonight. What time is it? All right, how about 2:30? That gives us a couple hours to sober up, get down there. What for? I got a Cajun philosopher here I’m gonna turn loose on my uncle. I shit you not. Carson won’t know what hurricane hit him. Thanks, babe, you’re the best. What kinda flowers you like? Anything you want — I’ll buy ‘em in New York, after all.”

He hung up and shook his phone at Rene’s mustache.

“We’re flying on a private jet, man. Bring the pocket knife and the booze!”

Rene punched his arm and hurled delighted imprecations at his head. The musicians, packing up their instruments, burst into applause.

“You’re leaving us so soon, gentlemen?” Malcolm asked, stepping from behind the palm. Now seemed like a good time to get involved. “I hope you’re not planning to drive to the airport.”

“We’ll be stone cold sober by the time we need to leave,” said Ian.

“You’ll be stone cold sober in a taxi,” Malcolm corrected.

“All the way to New Orleans?” Finally, Rene was scandalized. “What are we, made of moolah?”

“One of you is.”

“If you drove us, you could come along,” Ian offered. “The city that never sleeps! You know you wanna go.”

“I want to go to bed,” said Malcolm. “But I won’t have you two getting killed on my watch. Your sisters would hate me for life, and I can’t have that. You’re flying free; take the expense out of your airfare budget, boys.”

And then the ball was over, and the gentlemen were gone, and the house was quiet. Melly remembered staying up to see Rene off, despite everyone’s insistence that she get to bed right away. She remembered Malcolm and Alys’s strained parting. She remembered the familiar blast of moist air from her open bedroom windows after the cool of the ball. She could not remember how she got her dress off, exactly, but it involved a great deal of exhausting contortions and possibly a ripped seam. But at last the dress was draped over her chair and the corset neatly folded, and now that she was free from the constraints of the ball and could pore over her memories in the comfort and privacy of her own bed, Melly thought that she’d never spent a more wonderful evening.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Father Kapaun: Servant of God and Medal of Honor Recipient

In a ceremony yesterday, Army Chaplain Father Emil Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama. Rocco Palmo covers the White House ceremony.

Father Kapaun, who died in a North Vietnamese prison camp on May 23, 1951, had ministered heroically to US soldiers during the Korean War, and then, after his capture, to his fellow POWs.

Donald McClarey tells the story:
Serving as a chaplain at Fort Bliss, Father Kapaun was ordered to Japan in 1950. Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, he was assigned to a front line combat unit, the 3rd battalion, 8th cavalry regiment, 1rst Cavalry Division.

With his unit Father Kapaun participated during June-September 1950 in the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter and then in the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, which, combined with the Inchon landings in Operation Chromite, the brilliant stroke by General Douglas MacArthur, led to the eviction of the invading North Korean armies from South Korea and the capture of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on October 19, 1950. During all of this Father Kapaun was a whirlwind of activity: tending the wounded, administering the Last Sacrament to the dying, keeping up the morale of the troops. He said mass as close as he could get to the battle lines from an improvised platform on a jeep.

On November 1, 1950 Chaplain Kapaun’s unit ran headlong into advancing Chinese Communist forces at Unsan, North Korea, about 50 miles southof the Chinese border with North Korea. The official citation of the award of the Distinguish Service Cross to Chaplain Kapaun tells of his role in the battle:

The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Emil Joseph Kapaun(O-0558217), Captain (Chaplain), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection withmilitary operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Chaplain with Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division. Captain (Chaplain) Kapaun distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on 1 and 2 November 1950.

On the afternoon of 1 November 1950, and continuing through the following 36 hours, the regiment was subjected to a relentless, fanatical attack by hostile troops attempting to break through the perimeter defense. In the early morning hours, the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defenses, and hand-to-hand combat ensued in the immediate vicinity of the command post where the aid station had been set up. Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety, calmly moved among the wounded men, giving them medical aid and easing their fears. His courageous manner inspired all those present and many men who might otherwise have fled in panic were encouraged by his presence and remained to fight the enemy.

As the battle progressed, the number of wounded increased greatly and it became apparent that many of the men would not be able to escape the enemy encirclement. Finally, at dusk on November 2, 1950, the remaining able- bodied men were ordered to attempt to break through the surrounding enemy. At this time, although fully aware of the great danger, Chaplain Kapaun voluntarily remained behind, and when last seen was administering medical treatment and rendering religious rites wherever needed.

Along with the other Americans captured Father Kapaun was marched north in bitterly cold winter weather approximately 100 miles. One of his fellow prisoners, Herbert Miller, was wounded and had a broken ankle. Mr. Miller survived the war and here is a recent statement by him on what happened next. “I was wounded with a broken ankle and the North Koreans were going to shoot me. He brushed them aside, reached down and picked me up and carried me. How he found the strength, I’ll never know. He was the bravest man I ever saw.”

Father Kapaun and his fellow POWs were taken, after their two week march, to a temporary camp which they called The Valley located 10 miles south of Pyoktong, NorthKorea, the first in a series of camps in the area where Father Kaupan and the men from his unit were held. Of the approximately 1000 Americans who were taken here 500-700 died. I was astonished in researching this article to learn that during their first year of operation the Chinese POW camps had a death rate of 40%, which makes them worse than the Japanese POW camps during World War II in which approximately one-third of the Allied prisoners perished.

Then the events began which made Father Kapaun unforgettable to the men who survived this Gehenna on Earth. First, the men needed food. On the miserable rations they had from the Chinese they were starving to death. Father Kapaun staged daring daylight raids into surrounding fields to scavenge for hidden potatoes and sacks of corn. If he had been discovered it is quite likely that he would have been shot on the spot. He always shared his food with the other men, and his example shamed his fellow prisoners who also scavenged for food outside of the camp to do the same and share their food.

Second the men needed hope. Throughout the camp Father Emil was always there. Praying with the men, joking with them, tending the sick, and burying the dead. The Chinese instituted mandatory re-education sessions, a surreal experience where starving Americans listened in sullen rage while a Comrade Sun in broken English gave them lessons on the glories of Communism. Father Kapaun at the end of each of these classes would speak up and refute the lesson calmly. The Chinese were in rage about this, but Father Kapuan would not be cowed by their threats and would not be silenced. Word spread around the camp that the “Reds” were afraid of the Father. The Chinese tortured two of Father Kapuan’s fellow officers until they accused him of having a “disobedient attitude” towards the Chinese. Father Kapaun simply told the shame-faced poor men that they should have taken no risks in attempting to shield him. No matter what his captors did, the esteem in which Father Kapaun was held by his fellow captives was unshakable.

Dysentery raged through the camp due to the poor sanitary conditions. Father Kapaun cleaned and tended the sick men. One day he scrounged coffee, literally God knows how, and surprised the men with hot coffee the next day after they woke up. He would often lead the men in prayers for food. On Saint Patrick’s day in 1951 they prayed and the next day they received liver from their captives, the first meat they had since the Chinese had captured them. On another occasion they prayed for tobacco, and a guard tossed them some through an open window the following day.

Leadership is something that men naturally look for in dire times and they looked to Father Kapaun. One of his fellow prisoners recalled: “In his soiled and ragged fatigues, with his scraggly beard and his queer woolen cap, made of the sleeve of an old GI sweater, pulled down over his ears, he looked like any other half-starved prisoner. But there was something in his voice and bearing that was different—with dignity, a composure, a serenity that radiated from him like a light. Wherever he stood was holy ground, and the spirit within him – a spirit of reverence and abiding faith – went out to the silent listening men and gave them hope and courage and a sense of peace.”

The Chinese strictly forbade religious services and Father Kapaun of course ignored them. On Easter Sunday 1951 he held a service for the men. He could not say mass lacking bread and wine, but he had a crude wooden cross and a rosary he made from the barbed wire fence around the camp. He gave an unforgettable sermon on the Passion and then recited the Glorious Mysteries on his barbed wire rosary. By this time Father Kapaun was in bad health, suffering from dysentery, pneumonia and an infection in one of his legs and his eyes. The next Sunday he collapsed while leading another service.

His Communist captors refused him all medical care. His death was slow and painful. On his last day with his men, with tears rolling down his eyes, he told them the story of the seven brothers and their mother who perished during the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes , prior to the Maccabean revolt. He said that after Antiochus had her sons put to death their mother began to cry. When Antiochus asked her why she was crying she said it was tears of joys because she knew her sons were in Heaven. Father Kapaun told his men that his tears were also tears of joy. Christ had suffered, he explained, and his suffering made him feel closer to Him. By this time all of the soldiers in the barracks were weeping. Soon the Chinese guards came to take Father Kapuan outside of the camp to the “hospital”. This was a shack where the Chinese took dying Americans, not to receive treatment, but simply to die. Father Kapaun lay on a dirt floor for three days, completely unattended, and died alone, except for God, on May 23, 1951. His captors dumped his corpse in a mass grave on the bank of the Yalu river and no doubt thought that was that in regard to this troublesome prisoner.

Not quite. His fellow prisoners never forgot him. Through their years of captivity his memory remained an inspiration to them. One of the prisoners, Major Gerald Fink, a Jew, spent two and a half months, every second of which he risked dreadful punishment, carving, in secret, a 40 inch crucifix in tribute to Father Kapaun. When the surviving prisoners were released at the end of the war, they came out with story after story of the deeds of the man they had all loved and called “Father” no matter what their religion.
A cause for canonization was opened for Fr. Kapaun in 1993 by his native diocese of Wichita, Kansas. That site recommends the following prayer:
Lord Jesus, in the midst of the folly of war,
your servant, Chaplain Emil Kapaun spent himself
in total service to you on the battlefields and
in the prison camps of Korea, until his
death at the hands of his captors.

We now ask you, Lord Jesus, if it be your will,
to make known to all the world the holiness
of Chaplain Kapaun and the glory of his
complete sacrifice for you by signs of
miracles and peace.

In your name, Lord, we ask, for you are the
source of peace, the strength of our
service to others, and our final hope.


Chaplain Kapaun, pray for us.
It is, perhaps, an especially good one as the specter of war once again hangs over the Korean peninsula.


From the Wichita Eagle:
Several aged heroes from the war stood in the lobby, including former U.S. Army Master Sergeant Herbert Miller, an old soldier who now talks with a crack in his voice and whose hands shake so much from an affliction that makes it hard for him to sign his name.

At the White House, Ray had sat in the front row with his relatives and listened to the president describe the heroics of his uncle. Miller and his wife, Joyce, also sat in the front row, off to the president’s left, with some of the other eight soldiers who had been in the death camp with Kapaun.

The Millers fought to maintain their composure as the president described how Sgt. Miller and Father Kapaun first met — at the bloody battle of Unsan, where thousands died.

“Then, as Father Kapaun was being led away (as a prisoner of war) he saw another American — wounded, unable to walk, laying in a ditch, defenseless. An enemy soldier was standing over him, rifle aimed at his head, ready to shoot. And Father Kapaun marched over and pushed the enemy soldier aside. And then as the soldier watched, stunned, Father Kapaun carried the wounded American away.”

Some members of the audience wept as the president recited this story in a solemn, deliberate cadence. Miller was that soldier, lying in the ditch. He had only seconds to live until Kapaun appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and shoved the soldier’s gun away.

Read more here: