Monday, September 09, 2019

DEBUNKING HOWARD ZINN: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America, by Mary Grabar, Regnery History, August 20, 2019 (352 pages, $29.99, Hardcover)


If folks wonder why youngsters today are less patriotic and more inclined toward socialism, they need look no further than the most popular “history” textbook in the United States, Howard Zinn’s  A People’s History of the United States -- a one-sided work written from the perspective of a Communist activist that contains a plethora of distortions and outright lies.  In 2012, the director of the American Textbook Council noted that Zinn’s text had sold two million copies and was the “best-selling survey of American history.”  By 2018, it was estimated that the book had sold more than 2.6 million copies.  

Mary Grabar’s new book, Debunking Howard Zinn, does us the service of exposing  the mendacious,  non-scholarly character of this work that was praised to the hilt by Zinn’s former Cambridge neighbor,  Matt Damon.  In Good Will Hunting the film’s protagonist exclaims, “It will knock your socks off!”  making an even greater rock star of Zinn and solidifying for impressionable teens the bona fides of a propaganda tome composed in a scant year.  Even a sympathetic leftist historian, Michael Kammen, called the book “simpleminded” and a “scissors-and-paste-pot job.”  The well-known liberal scholar Arthur Schlesinger was even more critical, labeling Zinn “a polemicist, not a historian.”  Grabar herself notes that after his graduate school book on Fiorello La Guardia, Zinn produced not a single piece of historical scholarship until decades later he slapped together his People’s History -- a work that relies overwhelmingly on secondary sources and for which “there is no evidence that Zinn ever actually made extensive notes,” as he claimed, in preparation for its writing.

Grabar provides scores of examples of Zinn’s modus operandi that ignores, distorts, or simply lies about evidence to construct a Manichean portrait of good versus evil as those categories are conceived by a Marxist activist.  Zinn’s caricature of Columbus sets the stage for his presentation of American history as a series of Holocausts.  In one case Zinn quotes Columbus’ diary entries out of context to portray the explorer as a rapacious gold-seeker who wouldn’t be averse to enslaving the island’s primitive inhabitants.  To accomplish this goal Zinn ignores Columbus’ positive comments about “freedom” for the “Arawak” tribe and splices together separate entries that make the explorer appear a nascent slave trader on first viewing the island’s inhabitants.  In fact, the damning comments about the natives being “good servants” were made days later and concerned the perspective of a warring tribe intent on subjugating their more docile neighbors.  The other side of Zinn’s narrative involves the beatification and Marxification of the Americas’ native population -- a portrait at odds with any objective history of the New World which was filled with wars at least as ubiquitous and violent (including the cannibalism that Zinn omits) as those in “capitalist” Europe!   

To top off the lies about Columbus, Grabar shows that a good deal of Zinn’s “scholarship” is plagiarized from a 1976 work by fellow anti-Vietnam War activist, Hans Koning, Columbus: His Enterprise: Exploding the Myth.  Grabar shows how page after page in Zinn’s history was lifted almost verbatim from Koning’s book.  Indeed, “The first five-and-a-half pages of A People’s History of the United States are little more than slightly altered passages from Columbus: His Enterprise.”  The secondary kicker is that Koning wasn’t even an historian, much less a Columbus scholar.  In fact, Koning’s “slim volume does not cite any sources.”  Grabar also reveals additional instances of Zinn’s plagiarism -- one of which was discovered by a leftist Professor who didn’t publicize the truth lest it harm their common ideological objectives.  So much for professional standards that were applied even to a well-known historian like  PBS’s favorite scholar, Doris Kearns Goodwin, who “resigned from her post on the Pulitzer Prize review board and took a ‘leave’ from PBS NewsHour” when parts of her work were found to be plagiarized.

Chapter two of Grabar’s book reviews the life of Zinn as a dedicated Communist activist whose Marxist beliefs and activities spoke louder than any card he may or may not have carried.  Chapter three shows how Native Americans are used as props for Zinn’s ongoing Marxist cartoon, with Europeans and Americans forming the necessary oppressive class.  As for his account of the Iroquois Indians, it was again largely plagiarized from another patently biased historian, Gary Nash.  One critic said the descriptions of this well-known American tribe resembled “California countercultural rebels, defenders of women’s rights, and communist egalitarians. . . .”   In Zinn’s telling, any butchery and slavery on the side of oppressed groups (even the Aztecs) is ignored, distorted, or excused.  Thus, Zinn’s “history” conforms perfectly to Professor Fred Siegel’s observation about the “New Historians” for whom “American history became a tragedy in three acts: what we did to the Indians, what we did to the African-Americans, and what we did to everyone else.”  

Concerning the second act of that tragedy, Zinn somehow manages to blame capitalism for American slavery, though the institution has been around for all of recorded history and still exists in some very non-capitalist African states.  He also ignores the fact that only in America, where slavery was said to be the cruelest, were slaves, despite the evils of the institution, able to grow their population through natural increase, something not possible in regions where slaves died or were killed so frequently that only a constant influx of new victims maintained their numbers.

Grabar clearly demonstrates that Zinn takes the orthodox Communist line when discussing any topic: The Founding Fathers were more interested in their investments than the welfare of oppressed groups.  Lincoln was more a capitalist tool than a President committed to ending slavery -- or a friend to his adviser and later Republican political official, Frederick Douglass.  Even World War II was fought to maintain the capitalist system, as was, of course, the Vietnam War, where, according to Zinn, the My Lai massacre was “typical.”  Also in the 60s, radical and violent groups like the Black Panthers are given greater attention and more credit for (always inadequate) civil rights progress than traditional groups like the NAACP -- even though the latter organization clearly accomplished more than the former and was supported by blacks (despite Zinn’s insinuations) far more than their violent counterparts.                    

Earlier in the book and also in closing Grabar makes a telling point about the duplicity of modern historians by comparing their vigorous denunciation of David Irving’s Holocaust-minimizing work with the plenary indulgences given to Zinn’s unbalanced, unreliable, often-plagiarized volume.  Why, she asks, should Zinn’s false American Holocaust history not be judged by the same standards that make Irving’s account of Hitler’s crimes totally unacceptable.  The obvious answer is that most historians, even those who think Zinn’s book is more propaganda than history, are still sympathetic to the ideology that permeates Zinn’s distorted view of the U.S. -- a sympathy illustrated by their spirited defense of the book whenever official attempts arise to remove it from state-related classrooms. Grabar provides sufficient evidence to make the case that Zinn’s history is every bit as contemptible as Irving’s and should be viewed with equal revulsion.  That Zinn in 2004 signed a statement supporting an investigation into a possible 9/11 Bush Administration conspiracy says all one really needs to know about Zinn’s animus toward America.  That professional historians, clueless high school teachers, and even Google searches (no surprise) present  Zinn’s history as reliable is a big reason many young Americans no longer feel pride in a nation that’s been presented to them through the jaundiced eyes of a Communist who cares not a whit for professional historical standards -- or the truth. 

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle   

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Justice on Trial: A Lawless Auto-da-Fé for Brett Kavanaugh

After finishing the first chapter of Justice on Trial, I thought I had made a purchasing mistake, as the details read like a novel intent on providing setting and sequence information about every single event.  But in succeeding chapters, those little details became part of a gripping narrative that highlighted depths of depravity that are difficult to fathom.  The details not only bore witness to the authors' thoroughness and judicial expertise, but also occasionally became glimmers of hope in the midst of an ocean of despair, as when Mrs. Kavanaugh (Ashley) took solace from a daily devotional passage or when her husband was bolstered by a hymn frequently sung at Georgetown Prep: "Be Not Afraid."
The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway and Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino highlight the invaluable role of White House counsel Don McGahn in gathering a list of potential Court nominees and weathering the disgraceful confirmation process.  It is left to readers to guess why Senator Feinstein failed to follow committee protocol vis-à-vis Christine Blasey Ford's accusation against Kavanaugh, an accusation that was in her possession weeks before the confirmation hearings.  (My own thought is that Feinstein was loath to employ what seemed to be a "Hail Blasey" desperation ploy until all other attacks had failed, fearful that a timely investigation wouldn't find the accusation credible.)  To their credit, the authors make their case more credible by avoiding speculation about motives.  Instead, they employ a fact-based tone, allowing the actions and words of the principals to speak largely for themselves — a tack scrupulously avoided by "journalistic" outlets eager to print scurrilous accusations about Kavanaugh while maintaining an utter lack of curiosity about the background of Kavanaugh's accusers, especially Christine Blasey Ford.
Among those bits of relevant information (beyond the fact that she wasn't certain where or when the alleged assault occurred or how she got home afterward or how many persons attended the party or that she never connected Kavanaugh to the "assault" until decades later when his name came to prominence) were the following: Blasey Ford was an anti-Trump partisan who scrubbed her social media messages prior to sending her letter to Feinstein.  Blasey Ford's yearbook and high school reputation (which included a "riff" on her maiden name that is regularly employed by Rush Limbaugh) made Kavanaugh's yearbook and foibles pale into insignificance.  Blasey used her maiden name prior to the Kavanaugh accusation.  The doctor flew frequently, even on long trips, undermining the assertion that she was afraid of confined spaces like airplanes.  The story about the extra "escape" door to her home didn't conform to the time or reason for its installation.  The timid-voiced psychologist did, in fact, counsel someone on taking a polygraph test, contrary to her Senate testimony.  Most importantly (and purposely concealed by the Washington Post), Blasey's closest high school friend, Leland Keyser, did not remember either the alleged party or Brett Kavanaugh, though she was a Democrat opposed to the nomination.  In fact, Keyser was even threatened by a Blasey-supporter if she didn't perjure herself and corroborate the assault story.  Indeed, no one at all could corroborate any part of Blasey's account.  
The authors' confirmation narrative continues like a descent into ever lower levels of Hell as accusations move from Blasey Ford to Deborah Ramirez to Michael Avenatti's media pawn, Julie Swetnick.  Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono's believe-all-women and shut-up-men approach toward these accusations was matched only by journalists whose bombshell stories ignored inconsistencies and readily available facts about the accusers.  Among that group was the author of the much ballyhooed Harvey Weinstein exposé, Ronan Farrow, whose hit piece in the New Yorker touting Ramirez's absurd accusations was panned by National Review's Charles Cooke, who was "struggling to remember reading a less responsible piece of 'journalism' in a major media outlet."  The increasing absurdity of these last-minute slanders, however, actually helped turn the confirmation tide toward Kavanaugh, with one GOP-staffer even calling Avenatti "manna from Heaven."      
The most heroic senator in this Kavanaugh saga (with honorable mentions going to Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley) is Maine's Susan Collins, who, along with her husband, endured death threats during the ordeal.  Despite the intimidation, Collins was determined to vote based on her honest analysis of Kavanaugh's record and testimony.  Moreover, as Hemingway and Severino emphasize, Collins not only voted to confirm, but also gave a lengthy speech explaining why she voted that way, noting in the process that the accusations against Kavanaugh did not rise to the level of probability.     
Two examples stand as representative of the depths of moral depravity to which Kavanaugh's opponents descended, egged on by Democrats and the mainstream media.  The first is an un-publishable joke at Kavanaugh's expense by late-night political stooge Jimmy Kimmel that would have gotten him thrown off the air both by his sponsors and the FCC a generation ago.  But in today's ideologically debased society, his tasteless organ-removing humor passed the OK-for-public-consumption test.  Secondly, even after Kavanaugh's confirmation, the comedy writer Ariel Dumas sent out this despicable tweet: "Whatever happens, I'm just glad we ruined Brett Kavanaugh's life."
Justice on Trial notes, both early on and in closing, that the raw politicization of Supreme Court confirmation hearings began in earnest decades ago with Senator Ted Kennedy's mendacious "Bork's America" speech and continued in the same vein with the partially successful "high-tech lynching" of Clarence Thomas.  They also include comments by the late Justice Antonin Scalia that the process has inevitably become political precisely because the Court has transformed itself from a body that interprets the Constitution to a small cadre of philosopher-kings who legislate from the bench, a transformation that agrees with Professor Laurence Tribe's judicial philosophy as expressed in his book, God Save This Honorable Court.  (The title would more honestly be God Save This Honorable Court from Performing Its Constitutional Function.)  
There's little likelihood that the Court will revert to its original interpretive duties in the near future.  Consequently, a reprise of the Kavanaugh confirmation spectacle may be avoided or mitigated only by political calculations, since, as the authors contend, several GOP senatorial victories in 2018 can plausibly be attributed to public disgust over a process that sank to scouring the nominee's high school yearbook for a definition of "boofing" (flatulence) in order to destroy a man with a lifelong record of integrity and a large cohort of female colleagues and friends who were willing to endure ridicule and retribution to vouch for him.     
In short, Justice on Trial is an even-toned and comprehensive retrospective of the most reprehensible Supreme Court confirmation process to date.  Anyone who found the hearings and media coverage sickening should be warned that this book will present the reader with many more instances of mendacity and moral turpitude, a sordid tale assuaged by a reliable and heart-rending portrait of a loving, supportive family and the husband, father, and now Supreme Court justice who was so viciously slandered. 
Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Invisible Elephants and George Will

In the previous century when California still elected Republican governors like Reagan, Deukmejian, and Wilson, I penned an editorial for the San Diego Tribune that began with this counterintuitive observation by Alfred North Whitehead: “Sometimes we see an elephant, and sometimes we do not.  The result is that an elephant, when present, is noticed.”  Though I subsequently explained Whitehead’s meaning, the young editor at the soon to be defunct paper still did not grasp the philosopher’s point, namely, that what constantly surrounds us is hard or impossible to notice.  Consequently, the philosopher’s statement was altered to fit the editor’s cognitive parameters: “. . . an elephant, when present, is not always noticed.” A more prosaic but still apt comment by Allan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind might have passed editorial muster: “It may be that a society’s greatest madness seems normal to itself.”

Either of these observations could explain the blindness of never-Trumpers like George Will who seem oblivious to America’s cultural wasteland.  When national radio host Dennis Prager recently interviewed Will about his book The Conservative Sensibility, the columnist spoke confidently about the strength of America’s institutions, presumably its economic, legal, and political institutions.  Not a second thought was given to the corruption of political agencies like the IRS, DOJ, FBI, and State Department under President Obama—corruptions designed to stifle conservative political activism and to defeat and later unseat a lawfully elected president. 

Even that unprecedented level of institutional corruption, however, pales in comparison with the tsunami of decadence emanating from the powerful speech- and thought-suppressing institutions of the culture:  big tech, mainstream journalism, education at all levels, pop-entertainment, and large swaths of advertising.  Indeed, freedom of speech and religious liberty have been under attack by these cultural despots for decades, and the attacks are getting more brazen and far-reaching every day.  Even non-conforming bakeries and flower shops are now targets for destruction, alongside corporate entities like (“homophobic”) Chick-fil-A and (“misogynistic”) Hobby Lobby for the high crimes of opposing same-sex marriage and, in the latter case, resisting a federal mandate that compelled the business to cover abortifacient methods of birth control.  It should also be noted that the Chick-fil-A calumny arose purely from the owner’s support of traditional marriage, not from any discrimination experienced by customers.      

Perhaps Will’s anti-Trump posture has spared him from the fascist tactics typically employed to silence the likes of Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro.  Shapiro, however, long ago made clear his displeasure with the President, but Shapiro, unlike Will, is profoundly conscious of the depths of America’s institutional depravity, an awareness doubtless amplified by his traditional Jewish faith.  In short, Will seems nose-blind to the ongoing secular effluvia in which he is professionally ensconced.  Thus, he appears relatively unperturbed when viewing the “transformational” shift in America’s mores and customs over the last half century:  forty percent fatherlessness, profound confusion about male-female distinctions, plummeting birth rates among non-immigrant Americans, mass legal and illegal immigration, and a tidal wave of cultural crudity. 

Anyone contemplating contemporary America from the perspective of 1960 would see marauding elephants devastating the country by stoking racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual animus—a leftist political tactic that is ubiquitous but virtually impossible to detect via a generalized Google search.  Our sixties voyeur would also be amazed at the frenzy for drug legalization in a nation currently drowning in opioid hopelessness and urban homelessness.  He would be further astonished at the sordid mixture of pornography and political propaganda regularly dispensed by today’s comedians, actors, artists, journalists, and even politicians.  Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, for example, did not shrink from employing an F-bomb in front of a packed arena audience that included hundreds of kids, plus thousands watching on TV, when he celebrated the city’s hockey championship in 2014.  Yet even that degree of decadence would appear tame when compared with the “celebration” of abortion, and even after-birth abortion in New York.   

The proximate origins of this cultural cesspool can be located in the triumph of the electronic media when moral misfits in Hollywood, Madison Avenue, Manhattan, and academia took the place of parents, ministers, and traditional teachers as the primary molders of culture.  (See the concluding chapter, “What Went Wrong” in Moral Illiteracy. . . .)  These corrupting forces surround us all the time.  Consequently, Seinfeld decadence seems non-existent when compared to Jerry Springer, Two and a Half Men, or most rap lyrics.  In addition, appealing commercial slogans designed to promote “fun” and eliminate difficult or unpleasant tasks (like grammar or working one’s way through school) have replaced temperance, courage, wisdom, and virtue as life’s primary goals.  Moreover, these ephemeral aspirations are supposedly achievable via political nostrums that rival “Make a wish upon a star” in audacity.  “Anything your heart desires will come your way”—free medical care, free college, legalized drugs without negative consequences, free abortions, the gender of your choice, energy without fossil fuels, et cetera.

As Allan Bloom commented thirty years ago, “Parents can no longer control the atmosphere of the home and have even lost the will to do so.”  In their stead stand “the purveyors of junk food for the soul,” among them various entertainments that have “all the moral dignity of drug trafficking.”  No rehashing of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind will alter these entrenched and corrosive realities that have brought us to the brink of cultural and political collapse.  As John Adams correctly observed, Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Mr. Will doesn’t appear to be aware of the fact (or to care very much) that these categories no longer apply to those who control America’s most powerful cultural institutions.  The destructive elephants that have been running amok for the last half century are, for the eloquent secular pundit, invisible.  

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle   

Friday, May 03, 2019

Reefer Madness in Reverse: Happy Talk About Pot

Marijuana is safer than alcohol.  No one has ever died from using marijuana.  Legalization of marijuana will allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes and will eliminate the black market.  Marijuana has clear medical benefits.  State regulation of marijuana will guarantee product uniformity and produce significant tax revenue.  Marijuana reduces opioid addiction and crime.  Mental health problems related to marijuana (like psychosis) are overstated and can be explained away without viewing pot as the primary cause.  All these claims, especially those about safety and mental health, are debunked by Alex Berenson’s book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. 

Berenson, a novelist and New York Times journalist, only began this countercultural work after his typically liberal sentiments about marijuana were challenged by his wife, a forensic psychiatrist, who matter-of-factly suggested he read relevant studies on the subject after she observed, to her husband’s surprise, that one of the violent criminals she evaluated in New York was “of course… high” and had “been smoking pot his whole life.”  Berenson’s book was the unexpected and (for marijuana advocates) unwelcome, result of that challenge.
The author’s work begins with one of many horror stories that provide flesh-and-blood corollaries to the statistical data that fill most of its pages and clearly link marijuana (and more specifically the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, THC), to schizophrenia.  In this episode, a 37-year-old mother in Cairns, Australia stabbed eight children to death. Then Raina Thaiday stabbed herself and waited outside her house, ranting.  Not surprisingly, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. The largely ignored aspect of this case (and others like it) was the connection the judge noted between Thaiday’s use of cannabis since grade 9, and her psychosis: “All the psychiatrists thought that it is likely that it is this long-term use of cannabis that caused the mental illness schizophrenia to emerge.”  This observation was made not in 1936, the year Reefer Madness débuted, but in 2017 by an Australian judge summarizing the opinions of several psychiatrists. 

What Berenson discovered in his exploration of a multitude of studies is that the Australian case is by no means exceptional and corresponds with findings, including prized longitudinal studies, that link marijuana use to psychosis. Reportage of this information, however, is apparently verboten among most American journalists and pundits.  Instead, they prefer to tout the medical benefits of marijuana while ignoring the clearly deleterious effects of THC, a chemical that is more than ten times as prevalent in today’s cannabis as it was in the 1960s.  Case in journalistic point: There is no mention of Thaiday’s long-term marijuana use in Wikipedia’s short article on “Cairns child killings,” though it does say, misleadingly, that “no drugs were found at the crime scene.”  To be scrupulously fair, the article contains a footnote link to the judge’s finding about the defendant’s mental health, and if one reads two-thirds of the way down the long opinion, a hypercurious investigator will discover the judge’s previously mentioned conclusion about cannabis and schizophrenia.  It’s a good illustration of the way bad news about marijuana is typically buried in America’s media.

Berenson observes that the typical playbook for our country’s marijuana advocates (who, as former House Speaker John Boehner illustrates, have now gone corporate) has been to promulgate its medical benefits as a precursor to eventual legalization.  Currently more than sixty percent of Americans have followed that buzzed logic even though “neither cannabis nor THC has ever been shown to work in randomized clinical trials” which, as the author further notes, is “the only reliable way to prove a drug works.” Moreover, what may be marijuana’s most effective pain-relieving component, cannabidiol (CBD), is almost nonexistent in most cannabis today, so “whatever good [it] may do is irrelevant.”
Berenson’s book isn’t remotely close to Reefer Madness 2.0.  That moniker should go to journalistic happy-talk about weed over the last three decades. (For an additional take on the tsunami of misrepresentations, I recommend Ann Coulter’s recent column: “Media Pot Reporting: Just Don’t Call Us Uncool!”)  Berenson’s work never asserts that folks who smoke an occasional joint will likely be jumping out of windows or mutilating their spouses, though he does provide many examples of cannabis-related violence.  Instead, the book is an honest presentation of scientific evidence that shows heavy marijuana use makes developing schizophrenia (which will afflict about one percent of the population) significantly more likely.  The term “heavy” is important since one in five pot smokers, about eight million Americans in 2017, are daily users, whereas only one in fifteen alcohol drinkers consume that product every day. 

In addition, Berenson cites CDC statistics to make clear that marijuana was implicated in at least one thousand deaths between 1999 and 2016, a fact someone should convey to former libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, who put the number at zero.  Even those figures may be understated in view of the fact that in 2014 America’s “emergency rooms saw more than 1.1 million cases that included a diagnosis of marijuana abuse or dependence -- up from fewer than 400,000 in 2006.”  Other studies clearly contradict Senator Cory Booker’s assertion that violent crime fell in states that legalized pot and provide instead clear evidence of a substantial rise in murders, assaults and marijuana-related traffic fatalities.  Finally, the counterintuitive belief that marijuana availability actually reduced opioid addiction in pot-legal states is exposed as a premature, geographically-biased bit of correlation-equals-causation wishful thinking.  

In short, what medical studies and marijuana legalization have clearly shown thus far is that one can expect more pot smokers, more young pot smokers, more heavy pot smokers, more addiction, more crime, a black market filling the demand for more potent and cheaper pot, and a rise in schizophrenia alongside the occasionally grotesque violence associated with that malady.  Berenson, by the way, notes that schizophrenics are five times more likely to engage in violence (and almost twenty times more likely to commit murder) than individuals without that diagnosis, a fact regularly obscured by combining that very dangerous group in the much larger “mentally ill” population.  Berenson also mentions but does not pursue in detail more tentative but quite likely outcomes of increased cannabis use -- a lack of motivation, depression, and long-term cognitive damage.

The fact that much of the medical information contained in Berenson’s book has actually been publicized in Great Britain and digested by the British public accounts for the fact that that country has not seen the precipitous rise in marijuana use that’s occurred recently in the U.S. and Canada.  Nor have the maladies predictably associated with cannabis increased much in Great Britain.  Berenson’s own recommendation for marijuana laws in the U.S. stops at decriminalization and finds the rush to legalization a blind and ignorant leap into a future that’s sure to be the worse for it -- sometimes violently so.  

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?"  is also available on Kindle   

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

UNPLANNED: The movie Planned Parenthood doesn't want you to see

In New York City, the One World Trade Center was lit up pink to celebrate the state's new abortion-till-birth legislation — a moral travesty that wouldn't be tolerated, much less fêted, if the movie Unplanned were given the same publicity and distribution as a typical Hollywood film.  But just as evildoers seek the night to hide their violence, so also Planned Parenthood and its fervent supporters make every effort to conceal the true nature of their enterprise — a "procedure" whose soul-wrenching character it conceals not only from "clients," but also from seasoned staff members who can work for years without witnessing the live ultrasound-guided reality the organization promotes with infomercial zeal.

The very first scene of Unplanned depicts just such an abortion witnessed by the film's true-to-life protagonist, Abby Johnson (Ashley Bratcher), who by that time had become the director of Planned Parenthood's clinic in Bryan, Texas.  Viewing the "evacuation" of a "fetus" from his mother's womb in real time was the final crack in the emotional dam of this prominent and passionate "right to choose" advocate.  Johnson's flashback journey from inherited pro-life sentiments to that final moment of moral crisis constitutes the bulk of this well crafted drama.  It's a narrative that the "culture of death" hopes to bury — as indicated by the numerous advertising boycotts and predictably negative reviews the film has received.  After all, what could be more disconcerting to a debased culture than a story about someone who was actually honored by Planned Parenthood and then joined "the enemy"?

For many viewers, the most poignant scene in the movie Gosnell was court testimony given by a respected doctor who reluctantly admitted that the practice typically employed at a major Philadelphia hospital when a fetus unexpectedly emerges alive from a late-term abortion was simply to give him "comfort care" until he "passed" — a practice recently described sympathetically by Virginia's pediatrician governor.  The comment in Gosnell's trial illustrates the similarity between legal late-term abortions and actions a jury unanimously deemed murderous.  By contrast, Unplanned focuses exclusively on the well obscured nature of legal abortions up to 24 weeks as well as the business model of Planned Parenthood, a "non-profit" whose substantial revenues depend on the pregnancy-ending segment of this well funded enterprise.

Though Unplanned was produced on a six-million-dollar shoestring budget, the acting and storyline are generally compelling and not, as one might fear, preachy or melodramatic.  Mentions of "God" are sparse, and the movie provides, of necessity, a plausible explanation for Abby Johnson's passionate devotion to Planned Parenthood prior to her traumatic change of heart — namely, the ruse that she was making abortions rarer by helping girls with "crisis pregnancies."  Additionally, Abby's all-female co-workers are portrayed as good-natured friends with one exception: the director of the clinic, Cheryl (Robia Scott), who later selects Abby as her successor.  Cheryl becomes the human face of Planned Parenthood's abortion-driven profitability, encouraging facility directors at one organizational meeting to up their abortion numbers as if they were fast food managers pushing burgers and fries.

On the other side of the moral equation, pro-life advocates aren't always portrayed in a positive light.  Toward the beginning of the film, one protestor clutching a Bible belligerently insults women entering the clinic on the other side of a wrought iron fence.  Later in the film, a television newscast at a restaurant announces the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in a house of worship.  While the event understandably triggers fear and trepidation on the part of Abby and her family, there is no attempt to justify the killing or to vilify Tiller.  Naturally, most of the pro-life advocates and protesters in the film (and two in particular) are portrayed in a positive light — but with more moral justification than Hollywood regularly typecasts these same individuals as hateful zealots.

Overwhelmingly, the movie's dramatic poignancy is a function of Ashley Bratcher's superb portrayal of Abby Johnson alongside the honest depiction of events commonly associated with abortion.  A scene showing the often experienced effects of the commonly administered RU-486 abortion pill is enough to make one's stomach turn and might have explained why the movie was rated R.  The same goes for another abortion-associated trauma: a punctured uterus.  What isn't defensible is the fact that many films with vastly more blood and violence than Unplanned receive a PG-13 rating.  Consequently, it seems that the topic of abortion, not blood and trauma, was the crucial factor for the film's R rating, a label that produced this absurd circumstance:  a fifteen-year-old can get an actual abortion without a parent's consent but can't see a movie about abortion without adult supervision.  But then what else would one expect from a culture desperate to hide its depravity or even to present its moral decadence in the virtuous wrapping of "choice" and "reproductive rights" — the same deceptive garb that conceals all the above terms enclosed in "not what it seems" quotation marks? [Except for the very accurate "Culture of Death" designation]

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is also available on Kindle.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Right Side of History... by Ben Shapiro

Why are things in America so good, and why are we throwing it all away?  Those are the two questions that Ben Shapiro, the staccato-laced intellectual pugilist, seeks to answer in his new book, The Right Side of History.  That things are actually amazingly good, at least materially, in the U.S. is demonstrated via statistics of which few Americans are aware.  For example, in 1900, ten percent of all infants in the country died before their first birthday, and one out every one hundred mothers died in childbirth.  Today, both infant mortality and death in childbirth are rare.  I might add that the average lifespan for American women increased from around 46 years in 1900 to over 80 today.  Beyond longevity, material prosperity has reached almost Messianic levels.

On the downside, however, Americans are more hostile toward each other than at any time since the Civil War — primarily divided along ideological lines.  In addition, a growing percentage of the population finds itself without any significant meaning in life, an existential void that promotes rapidly increasing drug addiction and suicide rates.  Concurrent with this spiritual deficit are incessant attacks on America's traditional institutions in order to "fundamentally transform" the nation.  Thus, amid tremendous prosperity and freedom, we now see 24/7 vilification of the nation's racist, sexist,  genocidal history conjoined with attempts to squelch any speech that challenges leftist demands for "social justice."  In short, powerful media, academic, and political forces are in the process of destroying the very Constitutional principles and cultural institutions that made America great. 

So what, exactly, made America great?  Shapiro says, correctly, in my view, the union of "Jerusalem and Athens," by which he means the nation's historically mediated incorporation of the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition alongside the reason-based natural law tradition exemplified in Plato and Aristotle.  The creative tension between these two poles produced in America, and less clearly in Europe, societies that embraced both individual freedom and communal goals, both transcendent purpose and the employment of reason to achieve morally sanctioned objectives.  In America, a broad devotion to basic moral and religious principles provided a foundation for the individual "pursuit of happiness" within various religious and community groups.

The philosophical and historical journey that led to this outcome constitutes the bulk of Shapiro's book, material that may be a heavy lift for folks with little or no background in intellectual history.  That's not to say the author dwells on minor or abstruse philosophical points — only that his brisk and insightful overview of important philosophical developments during the last 2,500 years necessarily presupposes a degree of familiarity on the reader's part.  On the plus side, Shapiro's  overview is narrowly focused on the issues he needs to illuminate: the embrace of faith and reason and the negative consequences of rejecting either or both of these two poles.

After more than a century of religious wars in Europe, a creative balance was tentatively achieved that included both the Greek rational tradition and the biblical heritage of Judaism and Christianity.  This fragile coalition was soon destroyed, most grotesquely in the French Revolution, whose rejection of faith and deification of human reason led to a bloodbath whose cruelty should be a clear demonstration of the depths of depravity to which human reason is liable when freed from any transcendent restraints.  (I recommend Ann Coulter's chapters in Demonic for an impressive summary of this revolutionary barbarism.)

In America, however, the world's first philosophically constructed Constitution was made the political foundation of a religiously diverse people overwhelmingly devoted to the broad moral and spiritual ideas derived from the Bible.  These ideas included the conviction that all people are created in God's image and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.  America's Lockean embrace of reason, faith, and limited government provided the dynamism that gave rise to the most productive and religiously conscientious culture (cf. Tocqueville) the world has ever known.
Shapiro's final chapters depict the West's and America's descent into materialism, hedonism, and spiritual nihilism.  In Europe, the "death of God" proclaimed by Nietzsche and biologically sanctioned by Darwin created a vacuum that was filled by communism and fascism — ideologies that dismissed the individual and free inquiry for the sake of utopian futures.  In America Progressives also belittled the notion of individual liberty and a Constitution that limits government power, enthralled as they were with Hegelian concepts that touted collective goals.  Progressives thus gave birth to the eugenics movement promoted by Margaret Sanger, the dogma of a "living Constitution," and a government no longer constrained by constitutional boundaries.
The deterioration of faith in America and the West also gave rise to a rationalism that views humans as animals, or even bits of matter, with no moral purpose.  Attempts to create one's own personal morality within this godless universe, as with the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre,  have proven to be absurd, since morality is essentially a social concept and implies some penalty, either in this world or the next, for transgressions.  As if all these developments weren't bad enough, today's cultural Marxists are intent on bringing about a new society by overturning all existing institutions in the name of various victim groups.  Those institutions include the family, traditional religion, and any organization that can be viewed as supporting the white male capitalist establishment.  This phalanx of true believers pledges allegiance neither to reason nor to faith in God, but only to its own fantasies.  Thus, people can change their "gender" at will and others must agree that X and Y chromosomes mean nothing — or be punished for transphobic hate crimes.  Goodbye individual freedom, goodbye rationality, goodbye anything like the God of the Bible.

After offering detailed examples of America's cultural and spiritual decline, Shapiro provides scant advice for rectifying the situation.  It's certainly good to instill in one's children an appreciation of the immense historical accomplishments of our country — accomplishments rigorously avoided by leftist academics.  It is also wise to convey to them your conviction that their lives are "guided by a higher meaning" and that "we are all brothers and sisters."  But providing a familial remedy for a cultural disaster seems a counsel of despair.  In addition to pedagogical advice, some thoughts about the "academic and media" sources of disintegration would be in order, a few of which I offer in the closing chapter ("What Went Wrong") of my own book, Moral Illiteracy.

No doubt, the young Shapiro will provide more extensive suggestions in the future for countering and reversing the destructive forces leading us toward a culture that neither fears God nor reveres reason.  For now, his work illuminating the historical and philosophical origins of America's greatness and the sources of its impending doom is well worth perusing.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America, by David Horowitz

David Horowitz has always been a writer whose work I've appreciated since his compelling political biography, Radical Son, which related the author's break from his communist upbringing after Black Panther associates murdered his bookkeeper friend Betty Van Patter.  But brevity and crisp linkage of multiple intellectual threads were never characteristic of Horowitz's brilliant, often voluminous, exposés of leftist thought and practice.  By contrast, Dark Agenda is a concise, chilling book brimming with evidence that links numerous cultural depredations to one overriding theme:  The left's attack on Christian America's founding in the name of "cultural Marxism." 

"Christian America" is the novel component in Horowitz's analysis, a term that acknowledges the historical fact that America, at its founding, was 98 percent Protestant.  Protestantism, in turn, was intimately linked to the doctrine of "the priesthood of all believers" and to the more broadly Christian idea that all people are created by God.  In view of these beliefs and the fact that Protestant groups were living side by side, it followed that in America there would be no institutional or governmental mediator between the individual and God.  It also meant that each individual's rights were endowed solely by their Creator and that freedom of conscience and speech would be hallmarks of the new republic. 

"Cultural Marxism," by contrast, represents the application of its "oppressor versus oppressed" vision of society to various victim groups:  blacks, "people of color," women, native Americans, homosexuals, transsexuals, and any other group claiming victimhood.  For Marxists what stands between these oppressed groups and a world in which "social justice" and equality is fully realized are the oppressors, those who supposedly establish the laws and mores that keep them in power.  Thus, failure or success isn't the result of individual choices but the inevitable outcome of a system designed to unfairly help one group (white, Christian, males) and harm the others.  Accordingly, what matters politically is destroying the patriarchal Christian system itself with its emphasis on individual moral and economic choices and replacing it with a group-focused system that, in my own words, oppresses the oppressors.  Put quite simply, "Christian doctrines were foundational to the American Republic, which the left despises."

After reading the last two paragraphs, one might think Dark Agenda is highly philosophical and abstract.  This impression couldn't be further from the truth, as these core ideas are given clear expression and development via an array of examples, many of which are doubtless unknown to even the most politically-astute readers.  Who knew, for example, that the $621 million U.S. Capitol Visitor Center that opened in 2008 "is less a monument to the nation's founding and institutions than it is to the antireligious left's vision for America.  When it opened, all references to God and faith had been carefully, deliberately edited out of its photos and historical displays."  For example, the national motto was said to be "E Pluribus Unum" when, in fact, it is "In God We Trust."  Among other historical travesties, a large "image of the Constitution was photoshopped to remove the worlds 'in the Year of our Lord' above the signatures of the signers." Similarly, the "table on which President Lincoln placed his Bible during his second inauguration is on display — just the table, not the Bible."

These examples are picayune compared to the spiteful governmental coercion that's been employed to force The Little Sisters of the Poor, among others, to violate their consciences thanks to Obamacare abortion provisions.  The Supreme Court has been the giant secular lever employed by leftists to fundamentally transform "Christian America" into a state hostile even to a school-girl who joined hands with classmates to give thanks for her food. These politically-motivated  "lawyers," as Horowitz contemptuously labels the high court, began their anti-Christian, anti-Constitutional mission with the expulsion of prayer from public schools in 1962 (Engel v. Vitale).  That assault on the free exercise of religion now extends beyond commencement ceremonies and football fields to a bakery that was  embroiled in legal battles for years for refusing to provide a celebratory cake for a gay ceremony billed as a wedding — a "crime" made possible by Court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and in favor of redefining marriage.  

The case of Roe v. Wade (1972), which awakened religious conservatives to the fundamental attack on Christian America, is cogently dissected in Dark Agenda, both from a constitutional perspective as well as through the eyes of Norma McCorvey, the anonymous "Jane Roe" who was intentionally deceived and reduced to a legal prop to secure the Supreme Court's "right to privacy" abortion ruling.  (As Horowitz notes, in Marxist thought it's the grand arc of history and oppressed groups that matter, not mere individuals.)  That ruling officially brought about the cultural civil war that for the anti-Christian left involves not simply a virulent hatred of President Trump but also hatred directed toward his supporters who are regularly vilified as Nazis, sexists, racists, homophobes, and "deplorables" who are rightly denied freedom of speech and conscience.  Trump's Oval Office predecessor did his best to stoke these emotions as Horowitz's litany of anti-Christian comments and actions by President Obama illustrate — from avoiding religious references during a traditional Thanksgiving ceremony to pursuit of a foreign policy that led to the annihilation of the ancient Christian community in Syria.

Among the sidebars accompanying Horowitz's central narrative are insights into the abusive and mendacious character of atheist Madelyn Murray.  For example, in 1960 Murray "set out with her two sons . . . intending to renounce her American citizenship and defect to the Soviet Union." Her repeated attempts at emigration were rebuffed by the Soviets who were probably aware of her emotional instability and violent outbursts.  Murray's revolutionary predecessor, Margaret Sanger, was also a communist sympathizer and racist.  A 1930 article in The New Yorker about Ms. Sanger noted that her monthly newspaper, Woman Rebel, "mixed its birth-control propaganda with a good deal of red-flag-waving, and perorations of the 'Workers of the World, Arise!' variety." The author also observed that she "composed an editorial declaring: 'Even if dynamite were to serve no other purpose than to call forth the spirit of revolutionary solidarity and loyalty, it would prove its great value.'"  

Horowitz ends Dark Agenda with this chilling paragraph reminiscent of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "A nation divided by such fundamental ideas — individual freedom on one side and group identity on the other — cannot long endure, any more than could a nation that was half slave and half free.  The urgency that drew the religious right into politics fifty years ago is now an urgency of the nation itself."  Even individuals well aware of the cultural Civil War that now rages in America would do well do arm themselves with the insights in this book — insights that both explain the ideological  roots of the conflict and document a host of grievous wounds that "Christian America" has already suffered.  Horowitz, an honest agnostic, is doing his best to prevent those wounds from becoming mortal.

Richard Kirk is a freelance writer living in Southern California whose book Moral Illiteracy: "Who's to Say?" is available on Kindle.