Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Truth about Planned Parenthood

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood

"Birth Control which has been criticized as negative and destructive, is really the greatest and most truly eugenic method, and its adoption as part of the program of Eugenics would immediately give a concrete and realistic power to that science. . . as the most constructive and necessary of the means to racial health." -Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization. Brentano's Press, NY, 1922, p 189.

I stumbled across an old commentary by Joseph Farah on Planned Parenthood, which talks about current issues, as well as their historically racist and eugenicist past.

Most people assume Planned Parenthood is a harmless institution, but it is the number one provider of abortions in America, and it's affiliate organization in China practices forced abortions. So much for "My body -- my choice!"

For more, see this article on Planned Parenthood from

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Abba Arsenius: "Don't go there!"

St. Arsenius

Saint Arsenios the Great was a highly educated man of his day (born in 354, in Rome), and a master of rhetoric, philosophy, and of both Latin and Greek, but he gave it all up to serve the Church. Despite this, the Emperor sought to have him instruct his children, because his learning was of such a high reputation. He was very reluctant to do so, but agreed to do it in obedience to Pope Damasus. He devoted all his energy to fullfilling this task, but was troubled because of the high esteem in which he was held. He yearned for the quite life, and sought God's guidance in prayer. He heard a voice telling him "Arsenius, flee from men, and you shall be saved." And then, removing his rich clothing and replacing it with old and tattered garments, he secretly left the palace, boarded a ship for Alexandria, and he made his way to Sketis, a monastery in the midst of the desert.

Many of his sayings are Preserved in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, and very often one gets a glimpse of how much he shunned fame, and desired solitude. On of my favorite sayings of his is as follows:

"Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came one day to find Abba Arsenius. He questioned the old man, to hear a word from him. After a short silence the old man answered him, "Will you put into practice what I say to you?" They promised him this. "If you hear Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there" (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 10)

Another great saying of his is:

"One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, "Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?" He replied, "I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant" (Ibid., p. 10)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sam Houston on the Civil War

 Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming....Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet....You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence...but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction...they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South. -- Sam Houston, Speech in Galveston, 1861

Sam Houston was the general who won the Texas Revolution, the first President of the Republic of Texas, the first governor of the State of Texas, but he was removed from office for refusing to take the oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, and died during the war, under somewhat sadder circumstances than he should have.

Robert E. Lee comments on the results of the Civil War

"The South has contended only for the supremacy of the Constitution, and the just administration of the laws made in pursuance to it. Virginia to the last made great efforts to save the union, and urged harmony and compromise.... Although the South would have preferred any honourable compromise to the fratricidal war which has taken place, she now accepts in good faith its constitutional results, and receives without reserve the amendment which has already been made to the Constitution for the extinction of slavery. That is an event that has been long sought, though in a different way, and by none has it been more earnestly desired than by citizens of Virginia."

Today being Robert E. Lee's birthday, the Washington Times has reprinted a letter from Robert E. Lee, written in 1866 to an Englishman who asked for his reflections on the results of the Civil War. Thanks to the Southern Appeal for the Link.

Today is a state holiday in Texas, which works out great for me, because today is also an Orthodox holiday... the Feast of Theophany (aka Epiphany).

So thanks to Robert E. Lee, I don't have to take leave to celebrate this wonderful feast. :)

Theophany is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and the beginning of his public ministry. In the west, it is also known as Three Kings Day. For those wondering why it is celebrated on January 6th by those in the west, and today by those on the Julian Calendar, you can read this post.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Uncle Tom was no "Uncle Tom"

"Yes, Mas'r," said Tom, putting up his hand, to wipe the blood, that trickled down his face. "I'm willin' to work, night and day, and work while there's life and breath in me; but this yer thing I can't feel it right to do; - and, Mas'r, I never shall do it, - never!"

I just finished reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which I began reading because of my interest in the Civil War. It is unfortunate that this book, which has probably had the single greatest impact on American history of any book ever written, outside of the Bible, is not a text that every high school graduate has read and studied. It is also unfortunate that the key figure in this book has become a name of derision. Uncle Tom was not a submissive wimp, but was an image of Christ. He endured all manner of abuse that was heaped upon him, but willingly died to save others, by refusing to be complicit in evil.

It is fascinating to read a book that is earnestly trying to convince the reader of facts that are taken for granted now, but which were quite controversial at the time. This book sought to expose the evils of slavery to both North and South, and it did so by focusing not just on the obvious examples of evil, but by showing how even well intentioned people who thought that they were treating their slaves well could not guarantee that their slaves would not end up in the hands of evil men, due to unforeseen turns of event, such as the accumulation of debts or unexpected death.

There are two particularly moving scenes in this book:

There is the escape of Eliza, a beautiful slave with an infant, who due to the debts of her owners was sold to a man who thought she would fetch a high price at auction in New Orleans. Her owners had raised her in Kentucky, and had in many ways treated her like a daughter, but when faced with the choice between financial ruin and the sale of some of their slaves, chose to latter option. Slaves in border states generally were treated better, because it was easier for them to escape, but there was always the threat of being “sold down the river” to New Orleans, where they would wind up on a plantation in the deep south, where being worked to death was not an uncommon experience… or, if they were women of beauty, they might be sold into a life of shame. In any case, Eliza knew she would be separated from her husband, and likely separated from her baby. She chose to run, and in a scene that reminds one of the crossing at the Red Sea, she crosses the Ohio river by skipping across on ice patches. This incident was patterned on a true story, as are most of the incidents in this novel.

The trader caught a full glimpse of her just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water's edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap - impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it. The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake; stumbling - leaping - slipping - springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone - her stockings cut from her feet - while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.

Then there is the scene in which Tom is beaten to death by Simon Legree, for refusing to tell what he knows about two escaped slave women.

An't I yer master? Didn't I pay down twelve hundred dollars, cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? An't yer mine, now, body and soul?" he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; "tell me!"

In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom's soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed,

"No! no! no! my soul an't yours, Mas'r! You haven't bought it, - ye can't buy it! It's been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it; - no matter, no matter, you can't harm me!"

After reading this book it is easy to see how it was credited with starting the Civil War. It certainly brought the issue of slavery home, by causing people who had generally not thought deeply about it (since, after all, slavery had been the way of the world in every part of the globe since the fall of Adam) to see slavery from the vantage point of the slave, and to imagine what it must be like to see ones daughter bought by a scummy man who clearly had dishonorable intentions, to be separated from ones wife, or to face the uncertainty of a slave auction themselves.

What is most striking about this book is what a thoroughly Christian book it is. This book if full of Christian imagery, and sought to appeal to the Christian faith of its readers. This may explain why the book itself is generally not taught in public schools today. What a shame.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Before Rosa Parks refused to go the back of the bus...

...Mary Custis Lee refused to go to the front of the train.

I just ran across this forgotten historical tidbit. Robert E. Lee's daughter, Mary Custis Lee, was arrested for violating the Jim Crow laws, because she insisted on sitting in the car reserved for black folks.

This reminds me of a story about her father, which shows where she got it from:

One Sunday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Richmond, a well-dressed, lone black man, whom no one in the community—white or black—had ever seen before, had attended the service, sitting unnoticed in the last pew.

Just before communion was to be distributed, he rose and proudly walked down the center aisle through the middle of the church where all could see him and approached the communion rail, where he knelt. The priest and the congregation were completely aghast and in total shock.

No one knew what to do…except General Lee. He went to the communion rail and knelt beside the black man and they received communion together—and then a steady flow of other church members followed the example he had set.

After the service was over, the black man was never to be seen in Richmond again. It was as if he had been sent down from a higher place purposefully for that particular occasion.

The Lees were a more complex family than is often assumed to be the case.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Let them eat Spam (What's Wrong With Welfare, Part II)

This is Part II of a series. Click here to read Part I.

There are a number of practical issues about how Food Stamps, TANF, and Medicaid are being administered, that I will begin to deal with in my next post, but before I get to all of those issues, I wanted to spend a bit of time on some theoretical questions that I think are important to think about… however, I am too much of a pragmatist to think that much will come of my comments on these issues, because they would involve revolutionary changes to the current system. I am more optimistic about suggestions regarding how best to administer the current system, than I am that what I say here will result in a fundamental overhaul of the system. But in any case… here it goes:

I. Should the government be involved in these programs to begin with?

As a Christian, I believe that it is primarily the responsibility of believers to help meet the needs of the poor, and I do believe that private charities do a better job of actually helping the poor when comparing the bang we get from private charitable dollars compared to equivalent government dollars. Government welfare programs can be dehumanizing and (as we have often seen historically) can result in creating more long term social harm than good.

One big problem with government entitlements is that people feel entitled to them. There is no gratitude to faceless government bureaucracies from those who receive benefits from them, and those bureaucracies are not able to evaluate particular cases based on intangible factors such as whether or not the person requesting help is doing all they can to improve their own situations, or whether that person is engaging in behavior that only worsens their situation (such as continuing to have illegitimate children from absent fathers who have no intention of providing any support to their offspring). A bureaucracy can only establish eligibility criteria that try to identify those who are needy, and if a person who is pregnant with her fifth illegitimate child is applying for benefits, she can be treated no differently than a woman who has five legitimate children from a husband she had every reason to believe would always be there to support her, but has unexpectedly left her.

I once interviewed a man who was applying for assistance, whose wife had just run out on him and his daughter, who had just been laid off his job, and had a car note and a house note that was more than his unemployment benefits. He was ineligible because his relatively new car put him over the resource limit. Now, in Houston, you cannot practically work without a car, and suggesting to this man that he should sell his car and live off that money until it ran out, and then come back to reapply would have been the most counter-productive course of action possible. Telling this man that he was not eligible for Food Stamps or TANF was one of the most gut wrenching things I ever had to do as a case worker. He was in a desperate situation, and the look on his face was like the look of Job, after the third messenger had shared the bad news of the day to him. On the other hand, I have had cases in which people were clearly milking the system for all it was worth, and I had no choice but to continue the flow of the milk, because on paper, they were more needy than the guy I had to deny, although any objective observer would have known better. Many welfare recipients have adjusted their lifestyle to receive the maximum benefits, and when all the government benefits are tallied, they actually do quite nicely for themselves, though they must engage in soul destroying behaviors that destroy their lives and the lives of their children. All too often, we end up subsidizing irresponsibility and dysfunctionality.

My grandmother lived before the Great Society, and she was pregnant at age 15 with my mother, during the great depression, was unmarried, and after being kicked out by her family, she was homeless. Had she been born 40 years later, she would no doubt have entered a generational cycle of dysfunction that would not only have imprisoned her in a dehumanizing system, but her descendants as well… myself included (that is, of course, assuming that she would not have just aborted my mother). Instead, she had my mother at a Salvation Army hospital, was helped back onto her feet, married a good man, had several more children, and became a productive tax-paying citizen. And she always felt a debt of gratitude to the Salvation Army.

Government handouts are dehumanizing because instead of another human being showing their love, and helping out a person by meeting their need, showing them how to improve their situation, and holding them accountable; you have a faceless bureaucracy, with forms and rules, no love, and (all too often) no common sense. The Salvation Army could tell my Grandmother that she had sinned, but that God loved her, wanted to forgive her, and wanted her to live a better life. A Bureaucrat cannot make “value judgments” about the “life-styles” of the people who apply for benefits – he can only put their information into the computer, and see if the computer says they are eligible, and if so, for how much. There is something redemptive about a person giving someone else help, when the person receiving it knows that the help is not owed… that they are not “entitled” to it, but that the person is helping them because they love them. This kind of help inspires the receiver, and blesses the giver. But unfortunately, this is the difference between charity (which is the Latin equivalent to the Greek word “agape” and refers to the kind of love that comes from God) and welfare.

All that having been said, in the Great Depression, private charities were unable to meet all of the needs, and so the government began stepping in. I think it is highly unlikely that the government will cease to play a roll in these areas, and so do not think it is worth expending a lot of energy trying to change that reality. If we ended all government programs tomorrow, we would start creating new ones the first time we saw old people eating dog food, or kids living under bridges with their mother. I think the best we can hope for is that the government will try to play its roll in a more constructive way.

II. Should the TANF and Food Stamp Programs be done away with?

During the Great Depression, the government did help people in need, but it did so in ways that encouraged work and discouraged people from receiving this help any longer than they needed it. For example, they had work programs, in which people built roads, bridges, and Government Buildings, rather than simply handing out free money. The people who participated in this program had the dignity of hard work, they could take the money they earned with pride, and yet the money was not so good that they would want to keep these jobs any longer than they had to.

They also had a commodities program, in which the government gave surplus food to people who were hungry. One of these commodities was Spam. Now today, people think of e-mail when their hear the word Spam, but Spam is a food, which if you grew up eating it, you understand why the name came to be applied to unwanted junk mail, that comes in large quantities. Before microwaves, it was a quick and cheap meal. My father, who grew up during the Great Depression, could not stand the smell of it, because he had eaten enough of it to last a life time. These commodities kept people from starving, but there was no incentive to stay on that program any longer than necessary.

The problem with the Food Stamps is that it is too generous and too convenient. A family of four on food stamps, can receive about 400 dollars a month in Food Stamps (not to mention WIC, with which they can also buy dairy products), and with those stamps they can buy the choicest foods that one can find in a modern grocery store. What incentive do they have to get off this program? None. Now, for those who are elderly or disabled, I think the Food Stamps program is a good thing… the only problem is that these people often get very little in Food Stamps because their Social Security checks are counted against them. But for people who are able-bodied, I think we would better help them in the long run by giving them basic government commodities that would feed them, but not quite so thoroughly satisfy them as Food Stamps do.

There are food banks all over the country that already do something like this, and what is interesting is that I have often had people complain that their food stamp case was not being certified quickly enough, and that their kids would be eating dinner out trash cans, only to be told, when I referred them to a food bank, that they didn’t like food banks, because “They only give you can goods and bread.” Apparently the trash cans provide better fare.

My father was the hardest working man I ever knew, and I am convinced that he worked so hard all of his life in large part because he didn’t want to ever have to eat another can of Spam again. And while he never finished High School, he was making about $100 dollars an hour as an insulator when he retired, and his Spamophobia had the added benefit of him providing well for his children, and him having the dignity of having earned everything he had.

So I say, let them eat Spam. Let them eat so much of it, that they never want to smell it again. And then let them get a job, and buy their food in the grocery store the same way everyone else does… with money they have earned buy the sweat of their brow.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tribute to our soldiers

Click here for a moving 5 minute tribute to our troops that is well worth the look. Thanks to Sister Toldjah for the tip.

This reminded me of a 9/11 tribute from the 9/11 digital archive, that is also worth a look.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Homily on the Nativity of Christ, from China

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Click on the icon above to read a homily written by an Orthodox priest in China (Protopresbyter Michael Min), probably written not long before the Communists really set out to totally destroy the Church in China.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

My other life... (What's Wrong With Welfare? Part I)

Yes... I lead a double life....

Well.... not quite like that. I am a mild mannered parish priest, but I am also a mild mannered supervisor for the Texas Works division of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (which was the Texas Department of Human Services until a few months ago).

I am often told that it seems a bit contradictory for me to be a conservative Republican who works with Food Stamps, Medicaid, and TANF (aka welfare), but you would probably be surprised at how conservative people are who work with these programs. When I began working for the agency back in 1992, I expected to be surrounded by bleeding heart liberals... and I suspect that this impression comes from those who are social workers (such as those who work in Child Protective Services). The difference between social workers (what they do) and case workers (what I do) is that social workers are advocates for people who are abused, neglected, etc –- and so this job tends to attract bleeding hearts, and their experiences in that capacity reinforce their views of the poor as victims, because the people they are dealing with usually are truly victims. Case workers determine what benefits people are eligible for, and in that capacity have to examine the household circumstances, listen to the answers to our questions, and try to make everything add up so that the people we certify get what they are actually eligible for. On their side of the equation, they are dealing with people who are clearly in need. On our side of the equation, we are dealing with people who say that they are in need… and may or may not actually be. Consequently, we see a lot of fraud and abuse of the system. This is not to say that we never encounter cases that touch our hearts, because of the genuine need we see. It is very satisfying on occasion to feel that we have helped people with the kind of needs that these programs were really designed for... it’s just that these cases are more exceptional than they should be.

I intend to post more about this is coming weeks, but suffice it to say that we often help people who are really in need, and we often help people who are really not. The system is flawed, but is better now than it was 10 years ago, prior to welfare reform. Most of the people I work with are Democrats, and the majority are minorities (this is true in my office, but is not true throughout the agency), and yet despite what you might think, most supported the parts of welfare reform that actually worked... because those of us who work with these programs are the most aware of the abuses of the program, and like most tax payers, do not like to see their tax dollars wasted. Also, most of the black folks I work with are more socially conservative than the average white person... yet they almost all vote Democrat, because they have been convinced that the Democrats are on their side, and the Republicans are not -- more on this in future, too.

As one of the few openly Republican people in my office, I have tried to defend the Republicans over the years, and sway my co-workers to believe that Republicans are not all money grubbing rich people who could care less about the poor or minorities. I think over the years I have made some headway, but what the Republicans in Texas have been doing with social services in the past 3 or 4 years has made that task a lot more difficult.

In short, they are trying to privatize these programs, and contract them out to for-profit corporations. Now, I have nothing against corporations making profits, but there is no profit motive when in comes to welfare, because welfare is essentially what happens when you give people stuff for nothing –- and this is not something that for-profit corporations have a lot of experience with. If we were talking about contracting out our functions to non-profit groups, such as the Salvation Army... then I think we would have something worth considering, but that is not what is on the table. What is actually in the works is bad for the people who receive these benefits, bad for people like me who administer them, and bad for the tax payers, because it isn’t going to work, and is going to be a boondoggle that will be much are harder to fix than it was to implement.

In future posts I will discuss why privatization of this kind is a bad idea, present alternative ways to reform the system, and talk about why real welfare reform is resisted not just by the advocates of the poor, but also by many powerful business interests. I will also talk more specifically about what has been going wrong in Texas, but to start things off I will refer the reader to an article in today’s Houston Chronicle that is discussing an on-going scandal that is tied up with the push to privatize welfare.

I have been trying to meet with my Republican State Senator (Jon Lindsay) and my Republican State Representative (Debbie Riddle) for the better part of a year now, but I regret to say that I have been more or less brushed aside. I figured that if I met with them, gave them the secret Republican handshake, and told them what was really going on, they would listen. I still hope that might be true, if I ever get them interested in listening to what I have to say to begin with. I have voted for them in the past, I voted for them again in the last election, and will vote for them in the future... because I believe moral issues, such as abortion and gay marriage are far more important; however, this is not an unimportant issue, and so I hope to use this blog to get at least some people to hear what's wrong with the system, and what's wrong with the current fixes that are in the works.

Click here for Part II: Let Them Eat Spam.