Monday, October 19, 2009

On Calvin.

As part of their "How to Believe" series, The Guardian has posted Paul Helm's four part series on Calvin. I haven't read it yet but here's a quote from the first part, "A World Figure."

But if we concentrate only on his political and social influence, real as it is, we forget Calvin's heart-beat. He was "religious", not in the sense nowadays despised in liberal circles, but in its fundamental sense of a binding of the self to God. His theology, to which we shall pay some attention, was not an end in itself, but a means to that end. Theology ought not to be detached from its end, otherwise it becomes purely cerebral, speculative, something that merely "flits in the brain". But not any old theology will do, only a theology carved and mined from the pages of holy scripture. Though Calvin did not discount mankind's innate religious sense, nor (as far as can be judged) the practice of natural theology, he was primarily a theologian of what he believed was given to us once and for all through God in his son and in the Bible.


Congratulations! Omri Elisha Wins The Society for Cultural Anthropology's Annual Prize.

It's rewarding and encouraging when your friends do well! From The Society for Cultural Anthropology's website:

This year's doctoral student jury, consisting of Hannah Appel (Stanford
U), Emily Yates-Doerr (NYU), and Mareike Winchell (
UC Berkeley), writes:

"'Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting
to get anything back. Then your reward will be great,' begins Omri
Elisha's article, with this quote from Luke. In "Moral Ambitions of
Grace: The Paradox of Compassion and Accountability in Evangelical
Faith-Based Activism," Elisha traces the mutually-constitutive and at
times irreconcilable ethical demands of compassion and accountability as
they shape the work of evangelical activists in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Elisha uses rich and convincing ethnographic material to show that
evangelicals themselves "explicitly recognize the paradox" between
compassion and accountability, seeing the relation as dialectical rather
than contradictory. Elisha's attention to this paradox and his
informants' awareness of it illuminates not only everyday practices of
the evangelical activists, but is also useful in understanding other
broader projects of care and compassion--be they humanitarian,
governmental, religious, or even anthropological projects. As Elisha
notes, the "unsettling indeterminacy" introduced by these competing and
dialectical demands relies on and in turn creates specific objects of
intervention - "obstacles and hardships" - interventions that "reinforce
narratives of embattlement." That such languages of embattled gifting
create vertical relations of accountability rather than empowerment
raises provocative questions about the daily intimacies not only of
evangelical activism but also of international humanitarian work,
philanthropy and democracy-serving military action.

Omri's article can be found here.

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PA Pro-Life Conference on Saturday, October 25th.

I will be attending the PA Pro-Life Conference in Scranton, Pennsylvania on Saturday.

Should you wish to join, you can find details in this "pro-life" article on Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo's brother, who is a full-time activist against "euthanasia" and a speaker at the event along with Phill Kline, former Kansas Attorney General.

I'm driving out from New York City. Let me know if you want to carpool.

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A Lesson From the History of the Death with Dignity Movement: Marijuana, Assisted Suicide, and States' Rights.

reminds us of the GOP's hypocrisy regarding state's rights and medical marijuana. He quotes Salon's "Double G":

Beyond the tangible benefits to patients and providers, there is the issue of states' right. Fourteen states have legalized medical marijuana, many by referendum. The Bush administration's refusal to honor or even recognize those states' decisions -- by arresting people for doing things which are perfectly legal under state law -- was one of many examples giving the lie to the conservative movement's alleged belief in federalism and limited federal power (see here, for instance, how John Ashcroft and GOP Senators tried deceitfully and undemocratically to exploit the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent Oregon from implementing its assisted suicide law). Constitutionally and otherwise, what possible justification is there for federalizing decisions about whether individuals can use marijuana for medical purposes? Ironically (given the "socialism" and "fascism" rhetoric spewed at it by the Fox News faction), the Obama administration's decision is a major advancement for the rights of states to have their laws respected by the federal government.

Greenwald refers to his own article from January 18, 2006, reminding us of the battle to make and keep Oregon's Death with Dignity law on the books, despite the federal government's outlandish and over-reaching attempts to strike it.

Unhappy with the outcome of democracy in Oregon, certain Republicans in Congress (led by Orrin Hatch and Henry Hyde) demanded that the Justice Department (through the DEA) revoke the federal registration of any doctors in Oregon who provide the death-inducing medication to the terminally ill patients who request it under the Oregon law. As the Supreme Court explained, the Justice Department refused to do so when Attorney General Janet Reno wrote to Hatch and Hyde, concluding:

that the DEA could not take the proposed action because the CSA did not authorize it to "displace the states as the primary regulators of the medical profession, or to override a state's determination as to what constitutes legitimate medical practice."

Unhappy with the notion that Oregon could make its own decisions about assisted-suicide, these same Republicans then introduced legislation in Congress in order to give the Attorney General authorization to revoke the federal licenses of any Oregon doctors who assisted in suicide under this law. These Republicans wanted to use federal law to override Oregon law despite the fact they have long claimed to be believers in "states’ rights" --
i.e., that the Federal Government’s power should be restricted and individual states should be able to make their own decisions in areas traditionally reserved to the states, which indisputably includes regulation of the doctor-patient relationship.

In any event, the Republican sponsors could not get their legislation enacted. Congress refused to provide the Attorney General with authority to revoke the registration of Oregon doctors who assist in suicide.

So, Republican opponents of Oregon's assisted suicide law tried and failed: (a) to have Oregon’s law repealed by referendum; (b) to induce the Justice Department to revoke the licenses of Oregon’s doctors who assisted in suicide; and (c) to enact legislation in Congress giving the Justice Department the right to revoke the registration of doctors assisting in suicide. Again and again, these crusaders were rebuffed by the democratic and legal processes.

We have witnessed the same hypocrisy regarding "activist judges" among the GOP. They applaud judicial activism when it up holds their objectives, and decry it when it doesn't. They also applaud the power of the voter unless the voter happens to put them out of power.

Now that two court cases (Montana and Connecticut) and one potential new referendum (New Hampshire) for Death with Dignity are in the works, it will be interesting to see how the GOP frames their views on Federalism and judicial activism.

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The Eliminationists.

A quote from Fredrick Clarkson's review of new book by David Neiwert, "The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right," via ReligionDispatches:

“What motivates this kind of talk and behavior,” Neiwert writes of the sometimes surprising viciousness from otherwise ordinary people, “is called eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.”

Neiwert is a veteran journalist who has covered some of the farthest reaches of the American Right in the Pacific Northwest, including the Aryan Nations and the Montana Freemen. He was raised in Idaho, where the fervent factions of the far right (most notably the John Birch Society) were fashionable and intersected the lives of friends, family, and neighbors. The ideas in this book were developed in an influential series of essays at his blog Orcinus (Neiwert is also managing editor of Crooks & Liars where these issues are often discussed as well).

Neiwert stresses that eliminationist rhetoric “always depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic. A close corollary—but not as nakedly eliminationist—is the claim that opponents are traitors or criminals and that they pose a threat to our national security.”

“The history of eliminationism in America and elsewhere,” he writes, “shows that rhetoric plays a significant role in the travesties that follow. It creates permission for people to act out in ways they might not otherwise. It allows them to abrogate their own humanity by denying the humanity of people deemed undesirable or a cultural contaminant.”

Much of the book is devoted to outlining eliminationism in American history, from Native Americans and African Americans, through Chinese and Japanese immigrants and more. He shows how eliminationist rhetoric was often followed by “an actual campaign of violent eliminationism.”

This history is presented with a note of urgency, because the eliminationist rhetoric as currently featured by elements of the conservative movement, “is in many ways,” he stresses, “the signature feature of fascism.” An authentic, broad-based fascist movement is not here yet, he avers, though he warns that eliminationist rhetoric is not unlike “the distinct odor of burning flesh. And when it hits our nostrils, we dare not ignore the warning.”

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Connecticut Court Case: Distinguishing Between "Aid in Dying" and Assisted Suicide.

Kevin B. O'Reilly posts a story at AmericanMedicalNews about the pending court case in Connecticut regarding aid in dying:

Gary Blick, MD, an HIV/AIDS specialist in Norwalk, Conn., and Ronald M. Levine, MD, an internist in Greenwich, Conn., in October filed a legal challenge to the state's assisted-suicide statute, saying the threat of punishment prevents them from prescribing lethal doses of medication

Dr. Blick said that since he started practicing in 1987, he has received numerous requests for lethal prescriptions from terminally ill patients with "agonizing pain" and poor quality of life. "I always tell them I can't do that -- I could be tried for manslaughter."

"For anyone who is terminally ill, who is mentally competent, for whom we know there's no hope, who has lost quality of life and is in chronic pain, we can help them to die with dignity," said Dr. Blick, medical and research director of the HIV/AIDS clinic Circle Medical. "That's what we call aid in dying. This is not assisted suicide."

The distinction between "aid in dying," also called Death with Dignity where legal in Washington and Oregon, and assisted suicide, a prosecutable act, is one that anti-choice advocates are working to prevent. O'Reilly quotes "pro-life" advocate Wesley J. Smith:

"The argument is to replace assisted suicide with a euphemistic advocacy term in the statute," said Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank. "It's an amazing and hubristic idea."

By hubristic, we can assume that Smith finds the idea of an individual controlling their last days and weeks in order to escape suffering an affront to either God, the state or the medical profession. His position assumes that an individual is not entitled to oversee and determine the care of their own body, dignity, or quality of life. And considering that most hospitals and hospice facilities already practice Continuous Deep Sedation to alleviate pain until death, without patient consent or the strict regulations determined by the Death with Dignity law, the concept is hardly amazing.

Yet, the nature of the two acts, aiding a mentally competent, terminally ill patient - who is going to soon die - to choose their time and manner of death is not the same as assisting someone physically healthy to end their life.

As we wait for the Montana Supreme Court to deliver a decision on Baxter v Montana and watch the New Hampshire legislature draft a Death with Dignity bill, the case in Connecticut will teach us much about how aid in dying translates under that state's constitution.

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Sarah Palin Fights "Entitlement" Health Care Reform.

I'd love to pick this apart but, you know, life is so very short. Ultimately, Palin wishes we could just get lawyers out of health care and that the savings would make insurance affordable. That's her idea of reform. And her assessment of the current bill has little to do with facts, insuring the uninsured, making health care more cost-effective or accessible, or planning for the future.

She regurgitates a not-so-novel series of Republican talking points:

Here’s a novel idea. Instead of working contrary to the free market, let’s embrace the free market. Instead of going to war with certain private sector companies, let’s embrace real private-sector competition and allow consumers to purchase plans across state lines. Instead of taxing the so-called “Cadillac” plans that people get through their employers, let’s give individuals who purchase their own health care the same tax benefits we currently give employer-provided health care recipients. Instead of crippling Medicare, let’s reform it by providing recipients with vouchers so that they can purchase their own coverage.

Now is the time to make your voices heard before it’s too late. If we don’t fight for the market-oriented, patient-centered, and result-driven reform plan that we deserve, we’ll be left with the disastrous unintended consequences of the plans currently being cooked up in Washington.

I want to say something like, "If this is all the Republicans' have got, they're screwed." But she is right in that the medical industry and Republicans have been able to steer the debate so far. Even with minorities in the House and Senate, a debunked reputation on fiscal, domestic and international policy, and a decimated and uninspiring class of leaders, Republicans have still weilded power in this debate by their sheer opposition to it. They have no objective but defeat of reform: a prospect that leaves Americans farther behind economically - and unhealthy.

By the way, don't miss the comments.

Religious Practice and The Family - Not Open to Ms.

So I thought I would check out the cost to attend the upcoming event in Washington sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, Baylor Institute for the Studies of Religion, and Child Trends, a non-profit, children's advocacy group. The event is titled, "Religious Practice in America" and some of the panels have titles like, "Religious Practice and Families with Children," and "The Measures of Faith: Research on Religiosity."

Sounds great, right? I clicked the registration button to find out the cost but had to fill out a form before learning the price (turned out to be free). Problem was, first question I needed to answer, Prefix, didn't include me. I had the following choices: Mr., Mrs., Miss, Dr., and Rev. Well, I'm a Ms. but I guess women planning to attend don't get that option. They should either be married and making babies or young and single. Oh well.

While the event seems to be free, I've decided for reasons other than the absent Ms. not to attend.

Oh Nos! Medicaid Expanded to Cover 14 Mill Uninsured.

Today's Heritage Foundation newsletter, The Morning Bell (You should subscribe! It's a hoot!) reports that, "Obamacare Is Not Reform. It's Just Medicaid on Steroids."

Among the arguments the HF poses to the health care reform plan to insure via Medicaid $14 million currently uninsured Americans:

*"shoving" Americans into the program hides costs because Medicaid is partially paid by states (I wonder how much states currently pay for emergency medical care of the uninsured at hospitals?)

*participating doctors and hospitals receive 20 to 25% less pay from Medicaid than from other insured patients (duh. it's a cost containment issue. Medicaid expands competition for other medical industry soakers.)

*Medicaid recipients will exacerbate the existing access issue patients already have with willing doctors (uh huh, those doctors who wish to make that 20 to 25% more)

Their claim that the health care reform bill (termed Obamacare by opponents) is solely comprised of this initiative to expand Medicaid is silly. But even if they were right, those 14 million newly eligible Americans might not have a problem with it.

Maybe The Heritage Foundation is speaking for Big Pharma, Insurance Cons and other medical industry sponges??

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Using All The Parts.

My Mennonite grandmother didn't waste a thing. She kept a milk carton under the sink to collect kitchen scraps and then composted them in her nearly one acre garden where she grew enough vegetables and fruit to stock two full freezers for the winter and feed her family. I grew up turning out lights, not running water, using the least amount of toilet paper possible, wearing hand-me-downs, sewing on buttons and mending sleeves, cleaning my plate, and inadvertently, making a smaller impact on the environment.

But the Mennonite and Amish, farmers since their formation in the 16th century, have always been low-impact members of society. Now their green ways will be encouraged by a grant to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture which is aimed at promoting special and organic crops. Kentucky has a large Anabaptist community and the grant in some ways recognizes Mennonite and Amish agricultural contributions.

They were green when green wasn't cool. Finally environmentalists and government may be catching up.


Ohio Palliative Doctor Goes to Washington.

Dr. David Wentzel has been invited by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine to visit Washington to consult with Ohio Senators Grassley, Harkin, and Larkin on palliative and end of life care in regards to the health care reform bill. Wentzel told

"I have yet to find a patient who said to me, 'Yes, please i want to die in the ICU hooked up to machines,' and all that stuff, I've never had a patient say that to me ever. They always say the same thing, especially when I encounter them in the hospital, 'Get me out of here, I want to be home with my family," said Wensel.

Doctor Wensel says doctors have a hard time predicting how long people will live and they often are too optimistic, so not enough people get hospice soon enough.

"In some way it sorts of robs patients and family of very crucial time," said Wensel.

Instead he says, most patients spend their last months in intensive care, and that's much more expensive than hospice.

"Patients in hospice care on average save Medicare 3,900 dollars per patient in the last two months of their life," said Wensel.

It will be a nice change to have a sound voice and an advocate for terminal patients weighing in on this bill.

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