Tag Archives: First Things

The Death Of Shabaz Bhatti

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Minority affairs minister Shabaz Bhatti was assassinated Wednesday outside his parents’ house in Islamabad. Bhatti–Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet member–is the second critic of the country’s blasphemy laws to be killed this year. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer was murdered in January by Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of his security detail. Qadri told authorities he killed Taseer because the governor considered the country’s strict blasphemy law a “black law.”

Fasih Ahmed at The Daily Beast:

“Bhatti’s ruthless and cold-blooded murder is a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism, and respect for human rights in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, country representative for Human Rights Watch. “An urgent and meaningful policy shift on the appeasement of extremists that is supported by the military, the judiciary and the political class needs to replace the political cowardice and institutional myopia that encourages such continued appeasement despite its unrelenting bloody consequences.”

News of the attack broke shortly before noon. And two hours after his death was confirmed, it was back to business for the country’s boisterous TV channels, which focused instead on the cricket World Cup, political intrigue in the Punjab, and the fate of incarcerated CIA contractor Raymond Davis. Bhatti and Taseer had both advocated reforming the country’s blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse, and both had been declared apostates by the jihadists and tens of thousands of their mainstream supporters. If the celebratory reaction to Taseer’s assassination finally put paid to the notion that Pakistan’s militants are a vocal but fringe group (the Senate refused to offer prayers for Taseer), Bhatti’s seems to confirm growing national fatigue over the blasphemy-laws controversy.

Before they sped off, the assassins dumped pamphlets at the scene of the crime. “This is a warning from the warriors of Islam to all the world’s infidels, Crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood,” it reads, “especially the head of Pakistan’s infidel system, [President Asif Ali] Zardari, his ministers, and all the institutions of this evil system.” This document from the Punjabi Taliban continues: “In your fight against Allah, you have become so bold that you act in favor of and support those who insult the Prophet. And you put a cursed Christian infidel Shahbaz Bhatti in charge of [the blasphemy laws review] committee. This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Gus Lubin at Business Insider:

Al Jazeera has posted a chilling interview from Pakistani Christian Shahbaz Bhatti from before he was assassinated by the Taliban (via @allahpundit).

Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities, had received death threats for supposedly deriding Islam. He said in this interview, “I am ready to die for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights.”

Aryn Baker at Time:

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a colonial holdover put in place by British administrators seeking to calm the subcontinent’s fractious religious groups. They were sharpened under the reign of dictator Zia ul Haq, who added a clause calling for death to anyone found guilty of slandering the Prophet Mohammad. Since then some 1000 blasphemy cases have been registered. Though roughly half have been applied to religious minorities the others have been registered against muslims, in what is widely assumed to be the pursuit of personal vendettas. In one recent example a schoolboy from Karachi is being held in jail for allegedly writing insults against the on a school exam paper (because repeating what the boy wrote would in itself be considered blasphemy, the accusation  is enough to keep him in detention. Though considering what happened to Taseer, it could also be construed as keeping him safe). In another example, a religious leader and his son have been accused of committing blasphemy because they tore down a poster promoting an upcoming religious conference.

Yet any attempts to amend these laws to stem such abuse has been met with intense outrage by both religious leaders and Pakistani citizens, who hold that the law is divine, and cannot be changed. The blasphemy cases have become a boon for Pakistan’s religious parties, who have seldom done well at the polls. But with the country’s current government on the brink of collapse, religious group may be gambling that the issue of blasphemy could leverage them into power if new elections are called. Their gamble may well pay off. Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, was feted as a hero in Pakistan. In his confession, he said he had been inspired by the teachings of his local mullah Hanif Qureshi, who condemned anyone standing against the blasphemy law, saying they were worthy of death. At a rally a few days later, Qureshi claimed credit for motivating Qadri. “He would come to my Friday prayers and listen to my sermons.” Then he repeated his point: “The punishment for a blasphemer is death.”

Joe Carter at First Things:

Bhatti is the second Pakistani official in the past two months to be killed after publicly opposing the draconian blasphemy laws. How many others in that country will be willing to take his place and speak up for religious freedom?

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Once again, Pakistan is the most dangerous country of the world. It has 100 nuclear weapons and it seems to be slipping into anarchy. No one is sure how much of its military favors the Islamist path. Several Pakistani friends of mine, people closely associated with the government, are despairing. I truly hope that the U.S. has contingency plans for taking control of Pakistan’s nukes if the Islamist coup that everyone fears come to pass (if we don’t, I expect that India won’t be shy about taking military action).

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I Have A Dream, You Have A Dream, Glenn Beck Has A Dream

Amy Gardner at WaPo:

When Fox News and talk radio host Glenn Beck comes to Washington this weekend to headline a rally intended to “restore honor” to America, he will test the strength – and potentially expose the weaknesses – of a conservative grass-roots movement that remains an unpredictable force in the country’s politics.

Beck, who is both admired and assailed for his faith-based patriotism and his brash criticism of President Obama, plans in part to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero. He will speak on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, from the spot where King delivered it.

Some “tea party” activists say the event, at which former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is also scheduled to speak, will have a greater impact than last September’s “9/12” march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the attendance figures for that anti-tax rally are disputed, it was the first national gathering to demonstrate the size and influence of the tea party movement.

But with just a few days before the Beck rally, basic questions linger, including how big it will be and whether the event, which Beck says is nonpolitical, will help or hurt Republicans in November. Also unanswered is whether Beck can pull off the connection to King without creating offense – or confrontation with another event the same day led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up

Kate Pickert at Swampland at Time:

Glenn Beck’s 8/28 Restoring Honor Rally has already drawn all sorts of criticism. It’s scheduled to take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech – which he delivered on the steps of the memorial in 1963. Given that Beck has said President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” some black civil rights feel the rally’s location and scheduling are offensive.

What’s gotten less attention, however, is the group that will financially benefit from the event, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). All proceeds raised through Glenn Beck’s promotion of the event go to SOWF – once costs for the rally itself are covered.

The charity, founded in 1980, provides college scholarships for children of special operations personnel killed in action or in training. SOWF is very well-run, with low administrative costs and a four-star rating from the watchdog group Charity Navigator. Some 160 of its scholarship recipients have graduated from college in the past 30 years and there are more than 100 students in college now.

Joan Walsh at Salon:

Beck claims he didn’t know Aug. 28 was the anniversary of King’s most famous speech when he chose the day, and I’m not sure what’s worse — that he’s lying, or that he’s telling the truth. My gut says he’s full of crap: You don’t schedule an event at the Lincoln Memorial, on the same day of one of the most famous events ever held there, and not know of the coincidence. Besides, Beck has been comparing himself to King, and his acolytes to civil rights strugglers, at least since the Obama administration began. He’s too big a megalomaniac not to know the symbolism of his choice.

But let’s say he’s telling the truth: Can someone who purports to be knowledgeable about our political and social history really not know about the 1963 March on Washington? Was Beck even paying attention when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver just two years ago, and every news organization in the world noted it happened to be on the 45th anniversary of the King speech — that’s right, Aug. 28. It’s hard to believe.

When the “coincidence” was called to his attention, Beck exhibited his trademark megalomania and paranoia. It was “divine providence,” he said — and besides, he snarled, “black people don’t own Martin Luther King!” It seems a little tone-deaf to talk about “owning” someone when King was fighting to undo the legacy of slavery, when African-Americans were literally owned by white people. A final fun fact: Beck insists he only chose the date because that was the only open Saturday before 9/12, and of course he couldn’t ask people to rally on a Sunday, “the Sabbath.” Of course, Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, but I guess Jews weren’t high on the outreach list for Beck’s big event. But that’s our Beck, who has shown he subscribes to one of the ugliest anti-Semitic canards, that Jews bear the blame for killing Jesus.

Jillian Bandes at Townhall:

We can’t ignore the controversy: Beck is holding the rally at a time and place that is sure to draw scorn from a multitude of people. He’s doing it in the middle of election season, adding additional political weight to his avowed apolitical rally. Beck is a huge talker, and talks a lot about things that no one else does.

But that’s just one side of the coin. There are a multitude of people who believe that Beck is perfectly justified in holding the rally at that time and place, and even consider it an well-executed move. He’s got solid Christian credentials, so even if the rally does leak into politics, he’s built a firm foundation on which to honor our troops and focus on values. And Beck’s talking isn’t just background noise: his audience of over 3 million cable viewers are dedicated to his cause, and eager to spread the word.

Most importantly, lets not loose sight of the forest in the trees. Beck is motivating hundreds of thousands of Americans to get off their couch and get inspired. He’s providing a venue to praise our military and focus on what’s important, and no matter what your view of his political maneuverings, he’s doing a very effective job.

David Swerdlick at The Root

Greg Sargent:

Dems are gleefully noting to reporters that Beck intends to rally the faithful from the Lincoln Memorial — the very spot where King gave his speech 47 years ago. And with turnout estimates running as high as 300,000, Dems say they hope they can wrest some political advantage from what they hope will amount to a massive show of Tea Party force that’s rife with ugly Obama-bashing.

Though there are good reasons to wonder how effective it is, Dems have doubled down on a strategy of relentlessly elevating Tea Party whack-jobbery to turn moderates independents against the GOP. Several Dems cheerfully noted to me this morning that a raucus Tea Party rally staged on the anniversary of one of the turning points in the Civil Rights movement can only help in this regard.

To buttress the case that the rally is bad for the GOP, Dems are circulating a report in this morning’s Post claiming that officials with the Republican party committees are distancing themselves from the rally:

“In general, people coming to Washington, being organized and active is a good thing,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele.

“But I gotta be honest with you — I don’t know about any Glenn Beck event.”

Given the awful job numbers and the nation’s other myriad problems, it’s hard to imagine that using the Beck rally to tar the GOP will do much to alter the Dems’ electoral fortunes. But the sight of Beck trying to coopt the legacy of King while crazed Tea Partyers bash the first African American president in the ugliest of terms may well go down as an iconic moment in the history of this movement.

David Weigel:

Yeah, because bashing the tea party has done them so much good so far. I remember the Democrats begging, begging for Sarah Palin to endorse Scott Brown in the January 2010 U.S. Senate special in Massachusetts, in the apparent hope that she’d pass her crazy cooties on to him. How’d that turn out for Senator Coakley?

Beck isn’t stupid, and he’s trying to cut down on the easy shots from liberals with a rule: No signs.

Digby:

If the Triumph of the Wingnut rally does attract 300,000 people, keep in mind it’s because they believe this:

Media Matters describes it this way:

In a new promo posted on a “Producers’ Blog” at his website, Beck humbly places the rally in the context of the moon landing, the Montgomery bus boycott, Iwo Jima, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and other landmark historical events. It also not-so-subtly suggests that Beck is following in the tradition of Martin Luther King (which is a farce), Abraham Lincoln, most of the Founding Fathers, Martha Washington, the Wright Brothers, and other notable historical figures.

To give you some sense of the egomania on display here, it starts with the line, “Every great achievement in human history has started with one person. One crazy idea.”

And it’s “brought to you by Goldline.”

Greg Sargent says that Democrats are gleeful about the “I Have A Nightmare” gathering because they think these people will expose themselves to America as the kooks they really are and the people will reject them. But what if they don’t? There’s ample historical precedent for kooks to break through into the mainstream and it can lead to some very unpleasant outcomes. Yes, Beck is nuts. But he’s also the most important figure in the Tea Party movement, which in case anyone hasn’t noticed is in the process of taking over one of the two major parties in the most powerful nation in the world. You can deride these people, as I do every day. But it’s a mistake to not take them seriously or underestimate their appeal in times like these.

No one should ever count on the people naturally seeing through demagogues. Their power lies in their ability to be convincing even when it doesn’t make rational sense and the truly talented ones can change the world. It remains to be see if Beck and his fellow travelers have that kind of juice. But I wouldn’t be so sanguine that they don’t.

Anthony G. Martin at The Examiner:

In a demonstration of the overwhelming support of mainstream America for conservative principles, Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor’ rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is drawing ‘hundreds of thousands,’ according to McClatchy Newspapers.

Early reports indicate that so large is the crowd that attendees were having difficulty hearing the speakers. A quick scan of mainstream news outlets that have done actual estimates this morning indicates that attendance at this point is between 300,000 and 500,000 people.

And attendees are still arriving at the rally, which began some 90 minutes ago.

Newsbusters is live-streaming the event.

Michelle Malkin reports that as early as 7:30 AM there were already 100,000 peope gathered at the site.

Reporters on the ground, however, state that the claim of 500,000 attendees is grossly underestimated. A more accurate assessment of the crowd may well turn out to be between 500,000 and 1 million.

Speakers at the event represent a broad cross-section of America–civil rights leaders who were present at the Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in 1963, baseball manager Tony LaRusa, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a host of black preachers, and Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.

Update–Glenn Beck is speaking.  Passionate, eloquent, fervent defense of the Founders’ vision of America–faith, liberty, truth.

Update 2–Beck concludes by saying our hope as a nation is in God–a concept that is entirely consistent with the numerous writings of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin.  They may not have agreed on points of doctrine, but  in one accord they looked to God as the author and sustainer of LIBERTY!

Update 3–Country singer JoDean Messina sings ‘America the Beautiful.’

Update 4–More music from Messina and others.

Update 5–This aerial photo indicates the crowd may well number upwards of 1 million!

Updates on the rally will be reported as they become available.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

The state-run media is predictably annoyed with this patriotic rally.

The rally is streaming live at the Restoring Honor homepage and is also playing on C-SPAN.

A crowd shot from C-SPAN


Freedom’s Lighthouse
has lovely Sarah Palin’s speech at the rally.
What an awesome speech!

Meanwhile, Al Sharpton’s counter freedom rally managed to attract only 3,000 supporters.

Doug Mataconis:

After listening to the Beck rally this morning, though, I think the charges of racism were clearly over the top. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a political rally, though. Regardless of whatever Beck might say, the political undertones were rather obvious, and the degree to which it mixed religion and politics should quite honestly be disturbing to anyone who believes in the value of secularism in politics.

I’m not sure what the impact of this rally will be. I’m sure Beck has something more planned, he always seems to, stay tuned.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat in NYT

David Weigel

Douthat on his blog

Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic

Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place

UPDATE #2: Russell D. Moore

Joe Carter at First Things

Daniel Larison

Reihan Salam at Daily Beast

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

E.D. Kain

UPDATE #3: Nick Gillespie at Reason

James Poulos at Ricochet

John Tabin at The American Spectator

More Larison

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The Stem Cell Fight Begins Anew, A Return To 2001 For Me And You

Gardiner Harris at NYT:

A federal district judge on Monday blocked President Obama’s 2009 executive order that expanded embryonic stem cell research, saying it violated a ban on federal money being used to destroy embryos.

The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration’s new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law. Scientists scrambled Monday evening to assess the ruling’s immediate impact on their work.

“I have had to tell everyone in my lab that when they feed their cells tomorrow morning, they better use media that has not been funded by the federal government,” said Dr. George Q. Daley, director of the stem cell transplantation program at Children’s Hospital Boston, referring to food given to cells. “This ruling means an immediate disruption of dozens of labs doing this work since the Obama administration made its order.”

In his ruling, Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that his temporary injunction returned federal policy to the “status quo,” but few officials, scientists or lawyers in the case were sure Monday night what that meant.

Dr. Daley was among those who said they believed that it meant that work financed under the new rules had to stop immediately; others said it meant that the health institutes had to use Bush administration rules for future grants.

Steven H. Aden, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which sued to stop the Obama administration rules, said the judge’s ruling “means that for now the N.I.H. cannot issue funding grants to embryonic stem cell research projects without any further order from the court.”

Officials at the health institutes said that lawyers at the Department of Justice would interpret the ruling for them. Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, wrote in an e-mail, “We’re reviewing the decision.”

The judge ruled that the Obama administration’s policy was illegal because the administration’s distinction between work that leads to the destruction of embryos — which cannot be financed by the federal government under the current policy — and the financing of work using stem cells created through embryonic destruction was meaningless. In his ruling, he referred to embryonic stem cell research as E.S.C.

“If one step or ‘piece of research’ of an E.S.C. research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding,” wrote Judge Lamberth, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan.

Joe Carter at First Things:

The issue of research involving stem cells derived from human embryos is back in the news after a federal judge clarified that the government cannot use federal funds for such immoral research. Although the debate has been ongoing for almost ten years, the complexity of the issue and the peculiar terminology used often prevents many citizens from developing a fully informed opinion on the matter. To help, in some small way, redress that problem, I’ve compiled a brief primer, a “least you need to know” guide, that helps clarify and explain the questions most frequently asked about stem cell policy.

To those unfamiliar with the topic, this should provide brief non-technical answers to many of the important questions surrounding the policy. For those who are well versed in the controversy, I hope this will be a useful reference source to help you explain the issue to others.

What are stem cells?

The term stem cells refers to a diverse group of primitive cells that are themselves relatively undifferentiated and unspecialized. These cells are multipotent, meaning they can give rise to several other differentiated and specialized cells of the body (for example, liver cells, kidney cells, brain cells). All specialized cells arise originally from stem cells, and ultimately from a small number of embryonic cells that appear during the first few days of human development.

How are stem cells different than other types of cells?

Stem cells have two unique characteristics: (1) an almost unlimited capacity for self-renewal (they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells for as long as the person is alive) and (2) they retain the potential to produce differentiated and specialized cell types. As stem cells within a developing human embryo differentiate within the cell, their capacity to diversify generally becomes more limited and their ability to generate many differentiated cell types also becomes more restricted.

Why are stem cells so important to research?

Stem cells are of interest to both scientific and medical research. First, stem cells provide a valuable tool for studying both normal and abnormal cellular processes. By learning how stem cells differentiate and become specialized, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how cells in general work and what can go wrong. Second, stem cells may prove to be an indispensable source of transplantable cells and tissues for repair and regeneration. If stem cells can used to produce new and differentiated cells that are damaged because of disease (e.g., Parkinsons) or injury (e.g., spinal cord damage), it would transform regenerative medicine.

What are embryonic stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells taken from from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, a preimplantation embryo of about 150 cells. (Embryos are humans in the stage of development between fertilization and the end of the eighth week of gestation whereupon it it referred to as a fetus until the time of birth.)

Where do the embryos for ESC come from?

Currently, all embryonic stem cell lines have been derived from “spare” embryos created from in vitro fertilization (IVF) (i.e., embryos that have been conceived by a combination of egg and sperm occurring outside the body). However, because there are not enough embryos in existence to carry out the research, some scientists have been pushing for the use of human cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer) to create the embryos that will then be killed and harvested for their cells.

What are adult stem cells?

The term adult stem cells simply refers to any non-embryonic stem cell, whether taken from a fetus, a child, or an adult. Adult stem cells are also referred to as somatic stem cells.

What is a stem cell “line”?

A stem cell line is a stem cell culture that can be grown indefinitely in the laboratory.

Why is there a controversy over ESC research?

The process of obtaining stem cells leads to the destruction of the human embryo from which the cells are taken. For those who believe that life begins at conception, embryo destruction is immoral even when it leads to beneficial research. Even those who do not believe that human embryos are deserving of full moral status worry about what the effects of normalizing such practices may have on society.

Advocates of ESC research, however, argue that it is unethical to impede potential advances that could heal disease and relieve the suffering of fully developed human beings. They believe that the moral status of a 150-to-200-cell early human embryo should not take precedence over scientific inquiry.

Didn’t the Bush administration ban funding of ESC?

No, but the Congress implemented its own ban. In 1995, Congress attached language to an appropriations bill prohibiting the use of any federal funds for research that destroys or seriously endangers human embryos, or creates them for research purposes. This provision, known as the Dickey Amendment, has been attached to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill each year since 1996. This law only prohibits federal funding of such research and does not affect either private funding efforts or private research that involves the destruction of embryos.

Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic:

OK, let’s go through this one more time.

Half of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, usually in the first couple of weeks, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. A miscarriage destroys an embryo. If you believe that every embryo is the moral equivalent of a fully-formed human being, miscarriages are like a perpetual natural disaster like a flood or an earthquake, and you should be urging a massive effort to reduce miscarriages as the best way to save millions of human lives a year. As far as I know, there is no such effort going on in the United States or elsewhere.

But perhaps your concern is not the number of slaughtered embryos, but rather the morality of intentionally killing them or—worse, in your view—intentionally creating and then killing them. In that case, your attention should be directed to fertility clinics, which routinely create multiple embryos for each human baby they wish to produce. They pick and choose among the embryos that seem healthiest, and typically implant several in the hope that one—and not more than one—will survive. Every year tens of thousands of human embryos are created and destroyed (or pointlessly frozen) in the everyday work of fertility clinics. There is no political effort to stop this work. President George W. Bush even praised the work of fertility clinics in his speech announcing the policy that virtually halted stem cell research for eight years. Advanced fertility techniques have brought happiness to thousands of couples who otherwise would probably be childless. They are a godsend that no politician would dare oppose.

Of the tens of thousands of embryos discarded by fertility clinics every year, a few are used for stem cell research. Extracting the stem cells involves destroying the embryos, which would be destroyed anyway. True, the destruction of embryos used for research is purposeful, whereas the destruction of embryos in the everyday work of fertility clinics is incidental. But is that distinction really strong enough to support the difference between cavalier acceptance of tens of thousands of embryo deaths in fertility clinics and a legal ban on using a small fraction of these embryos to help develop ways to save lives? (Conflict-of-interest note: My life included. I have Parkinson’s.)

Allah Pundit:

The result: It’s Congress’s move now. They can either clarify Dickey-Wicker to okay funding for research on stem-cell lines derived from killed embryos, or The One and NIH can put their heads together to try to draft more clever language that will comply with the statute. Given the likelihood of a much redder Congress next year, they’d better hurry up either way. One thing I don’t understand, though: It sounds like the court’s decision would have found even Bush’s policy in violation of Dickey-Wicker. Bush didn’t cut off all funding for ESC research, remember, just for research on embryonic stem cells created after the date of his executive order. Weren’t the stem-cell lines already in existence on that date also based on killed embryos and therefore in violation of the statute?

Radley Balko at Reason:

Both the Clinton and Bush administrations had thought that they had artfully gotten around this restriction by regulatory interpretations. The National Institutes of Health concluded that while the government could not pay for the creation and derivation of embryonic stem cells federally funded researchers could use such cells once they had been derived.

The case had been brought before the court by the conservative Christian Alliance Defense Fund and Nightlight Christian Adoptions which wants to put embryos left over from fertility treatments up for “adoption.” Both argue that deriving human embryonic stem cells kills pre-born people.

Given that about 60 percent of Americans support stem cell research using embryos left over from fertility treatments, this ruling will surely spark the stem cell wars anew. While researchers eager to get federal funding will be disappointed and the confusion over the ruling will likely further delay research, the good news is that there is a lot private and state funding available for stem cell research.

Steve Benen:

Dr. Irving L. Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, said the ruling was “devastating to the hopes of researchers and patients who have been waiting so long for the promise of stem cell therapies.” Amy Comstock Rick, immediate past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, struck a similar note, calling yesterday’s news “absolutely devastating.”

“We were really looking forward to research finally moving forward with the full backing of the NIH. We were really looking forward to the next chapter when human embryonic stem cells could really be explored for their full potential. This really sets us back,” Rick said. “Every day we lose is another day lost for patients waiting for cures.”

Others can speak to the legal proceedings with more expertise than I can, and it was at least somewhat heartening to see one lawyer weigh in describing the judge’s order as “quite vulnerable; it’s not on solid ground at all.”

I’d just note as an aside, though, that the breakdown in the Senate’s ability to fill judicial vacancies often has sweeping national and international implications — in the matter of medical research, possibly even issues of life and death.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

This kind of came out of nowhere. It doesn’t overturn the funding rules but allows the case to proceed, with a temporary injunction against implementation until the completion of the case. This ensures that a case on the high-profile issue will continue through the election, though in recent years, stem cell research has not been among the high-profile hot-button issues.

UPDATE: William Saletan in Slate

Jim Pinkerton

Adam Keiper at NRO

More Saletan in Slate

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Filed under Science, Stem Cell

In The Name Of The Father, The Son, And The Holy Ghost… She Quits

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

Anne Rice is famous for writing crazy books about vampires, living in a spooky house, and , strangely, being a big Christian. UPDATE: Anne Rice is no longer a Christian.

Anne announced her religious renunciation on Facebook yesterday, because why not? First, this:

Anne Rice Quits Christianity 'In the Name of Christ'

Followed by this:

Anne Rice Quits Christianity 'In the Name of Christ'

There you have it. The vampire lady is no longer a Jesus lady.

David Goldman at First Things:

According to what we’ve heard, Rice’s post was heavily edited by her public relations team. The original reportedly went like this:

I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-vampire. I refuse to be anti-werewolf. I refuse to be anti-zombie. I refuse to be anti-ghoul. I refuse to be anti-porphyria. I refuse to belong to a religion whose cruciform symbol is used to terrorize creatures of the night. I refuse to belong to a religion that drives stakes through the hearts of beings with whom I consanguinate. I refuse to be anti-undead. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

Rod Dreher:

I’m sorry, but this is weak, and makes me wonder what really happened. Surely a woman of her age and experience cannot possibly believe that the entirety of Christianity, current and past, can be reduced to the cultural politics of the United States of America in the 21st century. Does she really know no liberal Christians? Has she never picked up a copy of Commonweal? Does she really think that if she asked a Christian on the streets of Nairobi or Tegucigalpa what they, as Christians, thought of Nancy Pelosi, they would have the slightest idea what she was talking about? And Christianity, anti-science? Good grief. Has she not noticed that Catholic Church, to which she did belong until yesterday, has affirmed evolution, and embraces science? How can a woman of her putative sophistication really think that Christianity is nothing more than a section of the Republican Party at prayer?

Andrew Sullivan on Dreher:

I tend to agree, but it does reveal the impact of Christianism in this culture to swamp and delegitimize actual Christianity. Dreher, of course, remains appalled by the neologism, regarding it as somehow anti-Christian. In fact, it’s precisely an attempt to save the message of the Gospels from the menace of Republican cultural politics.

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

As a relatively new member of the Catholic church, one of the things I’m learning, thanks in large part to my Parish Priest, is that an important pillar of anyone’s faith is the ongoing moral debate you have with yourself over what is wrong and what is right. Though I have many political differences with my church and even more with my Priest (one of the finest men I know), the church recognizes that a sincere inner-struggle regarding political and social issues, a struggle to come to a truly Christian decision, is something that should last a lifetime.

Rice, on the other hand, appears to have ended that inner-debate and come to all the conclusions. Among them, that same-sex marriage and voting for Democrats is what Christ would want. If she’s made a sincere effort to work her conscience through to that conclusion, that’s fine.

What’s not Christian, however, is her lashing out at those who disagree, and judging them from a moral authority she doesn’t possess as betrayers of what she obviously has decided is a kind of true Christianity.  There’s another word for this: Intolerance.

From where I sit, it looks at though Rice has “elevated” herself from a Christian to a narcissist.

The Anchoress:

Rice’s angry frustration with what she (and, let’s face it, many others) perceive to be a sort of Institution of No is interesting. She refuses to be “anti-gay,” but the church teaches that indeed we must not be anti-gay, that homosexual inclinations are not sinful in themselves, but that all are called to chastity, whether gay or straight.

So, what she is refusing is not so much church teaching, which she incorrectly represents, but the worldly distortion of church teaching both as it is misunderstood and too-often practiced. I do not know how anyone could read the USCCB’s pastoral letter, Always Our Children and then make a credible argument that the church is “anti-gay.”

But then, I do not know how anyone can read Humanae Vitae and credibly call the church anti-feminist or anti-humanist.

I do not know how anyone can read Pope John Paul II’s exhaustive teachings on the Theology of the Body and credibly declare the church to be reactionary on issues of sexuality or womanhood.

I do not know how anyone can read Gaudium et Spes and credibly argue that the church is out of touch with the Human Person or Society.

I do not know how anyone can read Fides et ratio and credibly argue that the church does not hold human reason in esteem.

I do not know how anyone can look at the Vatican supporting and funding Stem Cell Research, or the even the briefest list of religiously-inclined scientists and researchers and credibly argue that Christianity is “anti-science.”

Anne Rice wants to do the Life-in-Christ on her own, while saying “Yes” to the worldly world and its values. She seems not to realize that far from being an Institution of No, the church is a giant and eternal urging toward “Yes,”, that being a “yes” toward God–whose ways are not our ways, and who draws all to Himself, in the fullness of time–rather than a “yes” to ourselves.

E.D. Kain at The League:

This just seems horribly superficial to me. I suppose it’s possible that Rice never really understood her faith to begin with. I suppose when politics and the culture ware become everything – including how we’re received in our various social scenes – then God really does become little more than a piece of clothing, worn for a bit until it goes out of fashion, then easily discarded.

Certainly Christians can be terrible Christians. Certainly I disagree with much of what is said and done in the name of Christianity. Certainly I get a knot in my stomach every time the Catholic hierarchy bungles yet another sexual abuse crisis, and the more revelations of how un-Christian so many priests and pastors and others have been while peddling the words of Christianity the more angry and saddened I become over the whole state of affairs. But then I go to mass and everything is different. There are no politics. There is no divisive language, no hell and brimstone, none of this. There is the message of love and redemption and community and charity that drew me back to Christianity in the first place.

It seems to me Rice isn’t doing this in the name of Christ at all. It seems she’s given up on Him altogether. And if that’s the case, then why dress it up in the language of politics? Why kick sand in the eyes of all those Christians who are pro-science, pro-gay rights, pro-feminism, pro birth-control?

Everyone has moments, has their own crisis of faith. It’s always sad to me when that crisis is too great, the struggle too much, for someone to overcome.

The Anchoress has some worthwhile thoughts on all of this.

Update.

In response to some of the comments here…

Obviously being Christian doesn’t make you any better or more moral or any of that garbage. Being Christian means you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. And then hopefully you take that ball and run with it and do good works and all that jazz. But it isn’t really about what you’re for or against. Being non-Christian won’t make you more pro-gay or more pro-science, either. That’s a historical accident. If you were Christian or non-Christian two hundred years ago, it wouldn’t matter: you’d be anti-gay marriage. Likewise, some of the fiercest advocates of the abolition of slavery were religious zealots. In fifty or a hundred years we may not even be talking about gay rights any more (I hope gays will have 100% equal rights with straights and I hope it happens sooner than that!), but the questions of faith – the question of whether or not one believes, in this instance, in the divinity of Christ – will be questions that remains. The rest is transitory, the day’s politics, the day’s culture wars. Conflating one with the other seems to miss the deeper questions altogether.

Also, thanks to Anne Rice for stopping by!

John Cole:

I guess I found this odd because I never really thought of it as an organization you had to actively turn in a letter saying you were quitting. Most of us just sort of drift away and say to hell with it all.

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Filed under Books, Religion

Maybe If They Hire Joss Whedon Or J.J. Abrams…

Squid314 (Scott):

But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called “World War II”.

Let’s start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn’t look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn’t get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn’t even mind the lack of originality if they weren’t so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we’re supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren’t that evil. And that’s not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he’s not only Prime Minister, he’s not only a brilliant military commander, he’s not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he’s also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he’s supposed to be the hero, but it’s not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human.

So it’s pretty standard “shining amazing good guys who can do no wrong” versus “evil legions of darkness bent on torture and genocide” stuff, totally ignoring the nuances and realities of politics. The actual strategy of the war is barely any better. Just to give one example, in the Battle of the Bulge, a vastly larger force of Germans surround a small Allied battalion and demand they surrender or be killed. The Allied general sends back a single-word reply: “Nuts!”. The Germans attack, and, miraculously, the tiny Allied force holds them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive and turn the tide of battle. Whoever wrote this episode obviously had never been within a thousand miles of an actual military.

Probably the worst part was the ending. The British/German story arc gets boring, so they tie it up quickly, have the villain kill himself (on Walpurgisnacht of all days, not exactly subtle) and then totally switch gears to a battle between the Americans and the Japanese in the Pacific. Pretty much the same dichotomy – the Japanese kill, torture, perform medical experiments on prisoners, and frickin’ play football with the heads of murdered children, and the Americans are led by a kindly old man in a wheelchair.

Anyway, they spend the whole season building up how the Japanese home islands are a fortress, and the Japanese will never surrender, and there’s no way to take the Japanese home islands because they’re invincible…and then they realize they totally can’t have the Americans take the Japanese home islands so they have no way to wrap up the season.

So they invent a completely implausible superweapon that they’ve never mentioned until now. Apparently the Americans got some scientists together to invent it, only we never heard anything about it because it was “classified”. In two years, the scientists manage to invent a weapon a thousand times more powerful than anything anyone’s ever seen before – drawing from, of course, ancient mystical texts. Then they use the superweapon, blow up several Japanese cities easily, and the Japanese surrender. Convenient, isn’t it?

…and then, in the entire rest of the show, over five or six different big wars, they never use the superweapon again. Seriously. They have this whole thing about a war in Vietnam that lasts decades and kills tens of thousands of people, and they never wonder if maybe they should consider using the frickin’ unstoppable mystical superweapon that they won the last war with. At this point, you’re starting to wonder if any of the show’s writers have even watched the episodes the other writers made.

I’m not even going to get into the whole subplot about breaking a secret code (cleverly named “Enigma”, because the writers couldn’t spend more than two seconds thinking up a name for an enigmatic code), the giant superintelligent computer called Colossus (despite this being years before the transistor was even invented), the Soviet strongman whose name means “Man of Steel” in Russian (seriously, between calling the strongman “Man of Steel” and the Frenchman “de Gaulle”, whoever came up with the names for this thing ought to be shot).

So yeah. Stay away from the History Channel. Unlike most of the other networks, they don’t even try to make their stuff believable.

Noah Millman at The American Scene:

So I Guess Maeby Was Right To Pass On That History Text

H/T pretty much everybody in the universe, but yes, I, too thought this was pretty funny.

Eugene Volokh

Charlie Jane Anders at I09:

If you think your favorite science fiction TV show is full of nonsensical plot twists and lazy writing, you should check out the World War II documentaries, suggests Squid314 on Livejournal, in the funniest blog post you’re likely to read this week. Who on Earth would believe that the Allies could actually win the Battle of the Bulge? It’s total nonsense, and “Whoever wrote this episode obviously had never been within a thousand miles of an actual military

[…]

I’m convinced. We should start a write-in campaign to get the writers of the twentieth century fired. Who’s with me? More incredible brilliance at the link.

Joe Carter at First Things:

There have been some great television shows that have explored the theme of war and combat (M*A*S*H, Battlestar Galactica, F-Troop). But I have to agree with the brilliant TV critic Scott that the ongoing series that runs on The History Channel isn’t one of them

[…]

Read the rest. You won’t want to miss the part about the “unstoppable mystical superweapon” the never appears in the sequels.

Ed Driscoll at Pajamas Media:

Part of the problem is that in the 1970s, television writers were a crazed, psychedelic lot, a bunch of stoner sixties retreads more into scoring controlled substances than scripting controlled plotting.

Take this rock star wannabe who appeared in several segments of the World at War, and his seriously seventies mullet:

Don’t recognize him? I only knew who he was because his voice preceded his image, but I did a double take when he finally appeared:

Yes, it’s Stephen Ambrose in the early 1970s, back when he was in his mid-thirties, decades before the plagiarism scandals, and prior to that, his more sober C-SPAN and PBS-friendly look:

So yes kids, World War II was pretty cliched, but back in the 1970s, when it came time to watch TV, it was either that or Maude and Adam-12. We made do, somehow.

Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns, And Money

Matthew Yglesias:

These are all fair points. In terms of gritty realism and morally complex drama, you can make mine the Napoleonic Wars. The anti-hero at the center of the action has a great plot arc, the horses look cool, and the whole metric system conceit is so clever I’m surprised people don’t use it in practice. Even the North American spinoff is pretty interesting. It’s just too bad they didn’t let well enough alone after Elba—the TV movie special felt pointless and tacked on.

Doug Mataconis:

Just goes to show you that reality rarely makes good television.

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Filed under Bloggy Funnies, History, TV

Not Every Explosive Tape Contains Mel Gibson Melting Down

Andrew Breitbart at Big Government:

We are in possession of a video from in which Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, speaks at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia. In her meandering speech to what appears to be an all-black audience, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.

In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn’t do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from “one of his own kind”. She refers him to a white lawyer.

Sherrod’s racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.

Ed Morrissey:

Actually, if Sherrod had a different ending for this story, it could have been a good tale of redemption. She almost grasps this by initially noting that poverty is the real issue, which should be the moral of the anecdote. Instead of having acted on this realization — and perhaps mindful of the audience — Sherrod then backtracks and says that it’s really an issue of race after all. It certainly was for Sherrod, who admits that “I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do.” Notice that the audience doesn’t exactly rise as one to scold Sherrod for her racism, but instead murmurs approvingly of using race to determine outcomes for government programs, which is of course the point that Andrew wanted to make.

Andrew has a second video, which is more relevant to the out-of-control expansion of the federal government than race. Sherrod in the same speech beseeches her audience to get work in the USDA and the federal government in general, because “when was the last time you heard about layoffs” for government workers? If Sherrod is any example, it’s been too long.

Doug Powers at Michelle Malkin’s:

We interrupt this “Tea Partiers are so incredibly racially biased” broadcast for the following update:

Days after the NAACP clashed with Tea Party members over allegations of racism, a video has surfaced showing an Agriculture Department official regaling an NAACP audience with a story about how she withheld help to a white farmer facing bankruptcy — video that now has forced the official to resign.

The video posted at BigGovernment that started it all is here if you haven’t seen/heard it yet.

Breitbart claims more video is on the way.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled “Tea Partiers are so incredibly racially biased” broadcast.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite:

As it’s being presented, the clip is utterly indefensible, and the NAACP was quick to denounce Sherrod:

We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.

Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.

The clip that’s being promoted is obviously cut from a larger context, and while this is often the dishonest refuge of radio shock jocks, in this case, it makes a real difference. Here’s what Sherrod told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

But Tuesday morning, Sherrod said what online viewers weren’t told in reports posted throughout the day Monday was that the tale she told at the banquet happened 24 years ago — before she got the USDA job — when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund.

Sherrod said the short video clip excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with him and his wife.

“And I went on to work with many more white farmers,” she said. “The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it’s about the people who have and the people who don’t. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race.”

Sherrod said the farmer, Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga., has since died.

It doesn’t seem that Ben Jealous or Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are aware that Sherrod wasn’t working at USDA when this occurred, or that she did, in fact, help the farmer in question. That changes everything about this story, including the reaction of the crowd. The entire point of the story is that her actions were indefensible.

If what Sherrod says is true, this is not a story about grudgingly admitting that even white folks need help, but rather, a powerful, redemptive cautionary tale against discrimination of any kind. Both the AJC and Mediaite are working to locate a full video or transcript of the event.

This incident is being posed as the right’s answer to the NAACP resolution against “racist elements” in the Tea Party. This story also comes at a time when the New Black Panther Party has been thrust into the spotlight by Fox News (with predictable results), and debate rages over an Arizona immigration law that many say encourages racial profiling.

This is precisely the danger of ideologically-driven “journalism.” It is one thing to have a point of view that informs your analysis of facts, but quite abother when that point of view causes you to alter them.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

The 82-year-old wife of the white Georgia farmer who was supposedly discriminated against some quarter century ago by the black USDA official forced to resign this week — if the video released by Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and re-run by Fox is to be believed — is now confirming that in fact Shirley Sherrod saved her and her husband’s farm from bankruptcy and is a “friend for life.”

CNN also spoke with the farmer’s wife and with Sherrod. Rachel Slajda has more.

Kevin Drum:

In a second video, BigGovernment.com says “Ms. Sherrod confirms every Tea Partier’s worst nightmare.” Although this is ostensibly a reference to a joke she made about no one ever getting fired from a government job, that’s not really every tea partier’s worst nightmare, is it? On the other hand, a vindictive black government bureaucrat deciding to screw you over because you’re white? Yeah, I’d say that qualifies.

This is just appallingly ugly, and the White House’s cowardly response is pretty ugly too. This is shaping up to be a long, gruesome summer, boys and girls.

Atrios:

One of the under reported stories of the 90s was just how much Starr’s merry band of lawyers totally fucked over relatively lowly White House staffers in the Great Clinton Cock Hunt. That was largely through subpoenas and lawyer bills, but lacking subpoena power the Right has now turned to a credulous news media and the power of selectively edited video to go after random government officials.

Apparently Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart rule Tom Vilsack’s world. Heckuva job.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

Andrew Breitbart: the heir to Joseph McCarthy, destroying people’s reputations and jobs based on deliberately distorted allegations, while the rest of the right wing blogs cheer. Disgusting. This is what has become of the right wing blogosphere — it’s now a debased tool that serves only to circulate partisan conspiracy theories and hit pieces.

UPDATE at 7/20/10 8:33:55 am:

Note that LGF reader “teh mantis” posted a comment last night at around 6:00 pm that made exactly these points about Breitbart’s deceptive video, in this post.

UPDATE at 7/20/10 9:00:01 am:

It’s disturbing that the USDA immediately caved in to cover their asses, and got Sherrod to resign without even hearing her side of the story; but also expected. That’s what government bureaucrats do. And they didn’t want the USDA to become the next ACORN.

But it’s even more disturbing that the NAACP also immediately caved in and denounced this woman, in a misguided attempt to be “fair.” The NAACP is supposed to defend people like this. They were played by a con man, and an innocent person paid the price.

UPDATE: Rachel Slajda at TPM

The Anchoress at First Things

Caleb Howe at Redstate

Digby

Tom Blumer at The Washington Examiner

David Frum at The Week

Erick Erickson at Redstate

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect

UPDATE #2: Dan Riehl at Human Events

Noah Millman at The American Scene

Scott Johnson at Powerline

Victorino Manus at The Weekly Standard

Andy Barr at Politico

UPDATE #3: More Johnson at Powerline

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Bill Scher and Conor Friedersdorf at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Eric Alterman at The Nation

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Legal Insurrection

Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #5: Ben Dimiero and Eric Hananoki at Media Matters

UPDATE #6: Bridget Johnson at The Hill

UPDATE #7: Kate Pickert at Swampland at Time

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Filed under Political Figures, Politics, Race

Popping Out Children Like Brooms In The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Part Of “Fantasia”

Bryan Caplan at Wall Street Journal:

Amid the Father’s Day festivities, many of us are privately asking a Scroogely question: “Having kids—what’s in it for me?” An economic perspective on happiness, nature and nurture provides an answer: Parents’ sacrifice is much smaller than it looks, and much larger than it has to be.

Most of us believe that kids used to be a valuable economic asset. They worked the farm, and supported you in retirement. In the modern world, the story goes, the economic benefits of having kids seem to have faded away. While parents today make massive personal and financial sacrifices, children barely reciprocate. When they’re young, kids monopolize the remote and complain about the food, but do little to help around the house; when you’re old, kids forget to return your calls and ignore your advice, but take it for granted that you’ll continue to pay your own bills.

Many conclude that if you value your happiness and spending money, the only way to win the modern parenting game is not to play. Low fertility looks like a sign that we’ve finally grasped the winning strategy. In almost all developed nations, the total fertility rate—the number of children the average woman can expect to have in her lifetime—is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children. (The U.S. is a bit of an outlier, with a rate just around replacement.) Empirical happiness research seems to validate this pessimism about parenting: All else equal, people with kids are indeed less happy than people without.

[…]

A closer look at the General Social Survey also reveals that child No. 1 does almost all the damage. Otherwise identical people with one child instead of none are 5.6 percentage points less likely to be very happy. Beyond that, additional children are almost a happiness free lunch. Each child after the first reduces your probability of being very happy by a mere .6 percentage points.

Happiness researchers also neglect a plausible competing measure of kids’ impact on parents’ lives: customer satisfaction. If you want to know whether consumers are getting a good deal, it’s worth asking, “If you had to do it over again, would you make the same decision?” The only high-quality study of parents’ satisfaction dates back to a nation-wide survey of about 1,400 parents by the Research Analysis Corp. in 1976, but its results were stark: When asked, “If you had it to do over again, would you or would you not have children?” 91% of parents said yes, and only 7% expressed buyer’s remorse.

You might think that everyone rationalizes whatever decision they happened to make, but a 2003 Gallup poll found that wasn’t true. When asked, “If you had to do it over again, how many children would you have, or would you not have any at all?” 24% of childless adults over the age of 40 wanted to be child-free the second time around, and only 5% more were undecided. While you could protest that childlessness isn’t always a choice, it’s also true that many pregnancies are unplanned. Bad luck should depress the customer satisfaction of both groups, but parenthood wins hands down.

The main problem with parenting pessimists, though, is that they assume there’s no acceptable way to make parenting less work and more fun. Parents may feel like their pressure, encouragement, money and time are all that stands between their kids and failure. But decades’ worth of twin and adoption research says the opposite: Parents have a lot more room to safely maneuver than they realize, because the long-run effects of parenting on children’s outcomes are much smaller than they look.

Think about everything parents want for their children. The traits most parents hope for show family resemblance: If you’re healthy, smart, happy, educated, rich, righteous or appreciative, the same tends to be true for your parents, siblings and children. Of course, it’s difficult to tell nature from nurture. To disentangle the two, researchers known as behavioral geneticists have focused on two kinds of families: those with twins, and those that adopt. If identical twins show a stronger resemblance than fraternal twins, the reason is probably nature. If adoptees show any resemblance to the families that raised them, the reason is probably nurture.

Parents try to instill healthy habits that last a lifetime. But the two best behavioral genetic studies of life expectancy—one of 6,000 Danish twins born between 1870 and 1900, the other of 9,000 Swedish twins born between 1886 and 1925—found zero effect of upbringing. Twin studies of height, weight and even teeth reach similar conclusions. This doesn’t mean that diet, exercise and tooth-brushing don’t matter—just that parental pressure to eat right, exercise and brush your teeth after meals fails to win children’s hearts and minds.

Parents also strive to turn their children into smart and happy adults, but behavioral geneticists find little or no evidence that their effort pays off. In research including hundreds of twins who were raised apart, identical twins turn out to be much more alike in intelligence and happiness than fraternal twins, but twins raised together are barely more alike than twins raised apart. In fact, pioneering research by University of Minnesota psychologist David Lykken found that twins raised apart were more alike in happiness than twins raised together. Maybe it’s just a fluke, but it suggests that growing up together inspires people to differentiate themselves; if he’s the happy one, I’ll be the malcontent.

David Mills at First Things:

“Many conclude that if you value your happiness and spending money, the only way to win the modern parenting game is not to play. Low fertility looks like a sign that we’ve finally grasped the winning strategy,” writes Bryan Caplan in The Breeder’s Cup, published in The Wall Street Journal‘s weekend edition. Readers will remember the widely promoted study of a few years ago declaring that having children made parents less happy or, depending on the writer, outright unhappy.

In yet another example of the mainline press picking up on what our own David Goldman had been saying for years in his Spengler columns (search “demography” and “population”) and in Demographics and Depression, Caplan argues that the studies we have show that this equation of limited families with the good life is wrong. After challenging the study I just mentioned, he writes:

Happiness researchers also neglect a plausible competing measure of kids’ impact on parents’ lives: customer satisfaction. If you want to know whether consumers are getting a good deal, it’s worth asking, “If you had to do it over again, would you make the same decision?”

The only high-quality study of parents’ satisfaction dates back to a nation-wide survey of about 1,400 parents by the Research Analysis Corp. in 1976, but its results were stark: When asked, “If you had it to do over again, would you or would you not have children?” 91% of parents said yes, and only 7% expressed buyer’s remorse.

You might think that everyone rationalizes whatever decision they happened to make, but a 2003 Gallup poll found that wasn’t true. When asked, “If you had to do it over again, how many children would you have, or would you not have any at all?” 24% of childless adults over the age of 40 wanted to be child-free the second time around, and only 5% more were undecided.

While you could protest that childlessness isn’t always a choice, it’s also true that many pregnancies are unplanned. Bad luck should depress the customer satisfaction of both groups, but parenthood wins hands down.

He goes on to argue that parents could make themselves happier, but his reason is a little uncomfortable: “the long-run effects of parenting on children’s outcomes are much smaller than they look.”

Matt Zeitlin:

For Caplan, you start with what economists think, then see what voters think and then chalk up the difference as evidence as irrationality. He, in accordance with this general faith in what economists think, proposes all sorts of reforms that would take decision making power out of the hands of the public and into the hands of economists, like giving the Council of Economic Advisors “the power to invalidate legislation as ‘uneconomical,’”  and giving college graduates an extra vote.

The problem for Caplan is that economists generally agree that voters are rational and that insomuch as voters are misinformed, it tends to cancel itself out. So, Caplan has to make a further argument for why we should trust economists on policy issues, but why we should ignore their collective judgment on whether or not voters are rational.

He seems to have pulled this trick again in regard to his arguments for why, despite the rather robust finding in happiness research that having kids decreases reported happiness, people should have lots of kids. And, to take this argument even further, that they should have kids for selfish reasons; they should do so for themselves. Now, he makes some arguments for why this research need not lead to non-fertile outcomes and why the stuff that leads to the negative happiness effects due to having kids isn’t all that useful or important, but we are still left with another case where Caplan is making a significant, contestable point that is at odds with what economists’ think about the issue.

I’m not saying that this is a bad thing in and of itself, but it sure puts Caplan in a weird position where he agrees with economists on everything except the stuff he devotes his time to researching and writing about.

Will Wilkinson at Megan McArdle’s place:

Bryan really struggles with the fact that children tend to have a negative effect on self-reported happiness. (Most economists are dismissive of survey evidence, but, to his credit, Bryan isn’t.) He tries to minimize the damage this finding does to his argument by pointing out that the negative effect is small for the first kid, and even smaller for additional kids. But it remains that if one is trying to maximize happiness, no kids appears to be the best bet and fewer is better than more.

Of course, self-reported happiness is just one dubiously reliable piece of evidence about the effect of kids on well-being. The trouble with Bryan’s strategy in the WSJ essay is that he resorts to even less reliable survey evidence to support his position. He cites polls that show that people tend not to report regrets about having had kids, but that a large majority of those who have not had kids say that would choose to have them if they “had it to do over again.” Now, Darwinian logic suggests that the belief that one would be better off without children will not tend to be widespread. That is, as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues, we should expect to find conviction in the satisfactions of parenthood to be strong and all-but universal whether or not those convictions reflect the truth. So one would want check them against, say, the self-reported life satisfaction of those with and without children. Or, if one is inclined to think like an economist, one might say “talk is cheap” and check these beliefs against what people actually do.

In that case, what one finds is that increases in average levels of education, levels of disposable income, gender equality, and access to birth control — that is, increases in the ability of people (and especially women) to deliberately control the conditions of their own lives — generally lead people to choose a smaller rather than larger number of children. As far as I can tell, Bryan’s response is that it “lacks perspective” to take at face value this truly striking tendency of choice under conditions of increasing personal control. If Bryan really thinks rising education, wealth, and gender equality have somehow made us worse at evaluating the costs and benefits of children, he probably ought to turn in his economist card.

None of this is to say that there aren’t excellent reasons to have families larger than the relatively small rich-country norm. It’s just that these tend not to be the kinds of reasons economists consider “selfish.”

Razib Khan at Discover:

Being an economist he focuses on rational individual behavior, but I want to point to another issue: group norms. In the left-liberal progressive post-graduate educated circles which I come into contact with in the USA childlessness is not uncommon, and bears no stigma (on the contrary, I hear often of implicit and explicit pressure on graduate students to forgo children for the sake of maximizing labor hour input into research over one’s lifetime from advisors). On the other hand, the norm of a two-child family is also very strong, and going above replacement brings upon you a fair amount of attention. The rationale here is often environmental, more children = more of a carbon footprint. But my friend Gregory Cochran has stated that as an individual who is well above replacement whose social milieu is more conservative that he perceives that more than two children is also perceived as deviant in Middle American society. In other words, the reasoning may differ, but the intuition is the same (in Italy the reasoning mostly involves the cost of raising children from the perspective of parents, both in cash and time).

The numbers in the General Social Survey tell the tale. In 1972 42% of adults had more than 2 children. In 2008 32% did. More relevantly in 1972 47% of adults between the ages of 25 and 45 had more than 2 children. In 2008 the figure for that age group is 27% for those with more than 2 children.

Of course the numbers mix up a lot of different subcultures. One anecdote I’d like to relate is a conversation I had with a secular left-of-center university educated couple. They expressed the aspiration toward 4 children. I asked them out of curiosity about the population control issue, and they looked at me like I was joking. It needs to be mentioned that they weren’t American, rather they were from a Northern European country which seems on the exterior to resemble the United States very much. But it reminds us of the importance of group norms in shaping life choices and expectations, the implicit framework for our explicit choices.

All that goes to my point that Bryan Caplan’s project will be most effective among demographics geared toward prioritizing individual choice, analysis and utility maximization, as opposed to relying upon the wisdom of group norms. Economists, quantitative social science and finance types, libertarians, etc.

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

But that leads us to the truly deranged part of the argument: Caplan believes that we shouldn’t be working so hard to be good parents, because, hey, the quality of our parenting doesn’t really make any difference to how our kids turn out. He cites a few behavioral genetics studies, mostly on sets of twins, that purport to show very little difference in outcomes when children with the same genetic makeup are raised by different parents.

It’s the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free parenting card!

Many find behavioral genetics depressing, but it’s great news for parents and potential parents. If you think that your kids’ future rests in your hands, you’ll probably make many painful “investments” — and feel guilty that you didn’t do more. Once you realize that your kids’ future largely rests in their own hands, you can give yourself a guilt-free break.

If you enjoy reading with your children, wonderful. But if you skip the nightly book, you’re not stunting their intelligence, ruining their chances for college or dooming them to a dead-end job. The same goes for the other dilemmas that weigh on parents’ consciences. Watching television, playing sports, eating vegetables, living in the right neighborhood: Your choices have little effect on your kids’ development, so it’s OK to relax. In fact, relaxing is better for the whole family. Riding your kids “for their own good” rarely pays off, and it may hurt how your children feel about you.

So we should have more kids, and spend less time and effort parenting them, and just kick back and enjoy the fruits of our non-labors, presumably generated when our offspring stroke our egos by visiting us in our nursery homes and telling us how cool we were for setting no curfews and letting them play videogames until they keeled over in front of their computers from lack of proper hydration.

I guess I do see a certain libertarian world view integrity here. If you judge modes of political organization from the foundational precept that good government is impossible, then why not also assume that good parenting is, if not impossible, merely useless? If you’re going to dump John Maynard Keynes then why not throw out Dr. Spock as well?

Who knew that lazy permissiveness would become a calling card of libertarian parenting ideology? I’ll concede that there are tendencies towards over-parenting in American culture that verge on the extreme, and could quite possibly be counter-productive. The frantic competition to get your baby into the best pre-school in Manhattan — a struggle that seems to start before the child is even born — may not be the most efficient use of resources. Caplan is certainly right on one point, we should relax more — relaxed parents, I would submit, are better parents. But to leap from that starting point to the contention that our choices have little effect on our children’s development seems, in my own anecdotal understanding of the world, to go too far. Even worse, it smacks of an abdication of responsibility, a surrender to the worst kind of easy rationalization. Good parenting is hard, but even if the differences we are making are only perceivable at the margins, that shouldn’t absolve us from the necessity and pleasure of making any effort at all. It’s not a winning or losing strategy: It’s a way to be in the world.

Tony Woodlief at Megan McArdle’s place:

To be sure, there are too many parents who, despite their children, remain narcissistic nimrods. But the nature of parenting is to beat that out of you. There’s just no time to spend on ourselves, at least not like we would if we didn’t have babies to wash and toys to clean up, usually in the middle of the night, after impaling our feet on them.
People are inherently self-centered, and especially in a peaceful, prosperous society, this easily leads to self-indulgence that in turn can make us weak and ignoble. There’s something to be said for ordeals — like parenting, or marriage, or tending the weak and broken — which push us into an other-orientation. When we have to care for someone, we get better at, well, caring for people. It actually takes practice, after all. I’m still trying to get it right.
I suppose an economist could make this all fit. What I’m really saying, the economist might contend, is that one element of my self-interest, in addition to enjoying a leisurely meal, and plenty of sleep, and the ability to go away on vacations without worrying about who will watch the youngsters, is not becoming (remaining?) a jerk. Kids certainly don’t guarantee that won’t happen, but they help mitigate the risk. And if we conceptualize that self-interest, in turn, as happiness, we’re right back where we started.
But I wonder if the questions would change. Instead of asking parents and non-parents whether they are happy right now, we might ask whether they are becoming more like the people they want to be. And then we might see children not as factors that may or may not be contributing to our happiness, but as opportunities to practice what most of us — perhaps me most of all — need to do more often, which is to put someone else before ourselves.

James Poulos at Ricochet:

The unique thing about children is that, at one and the same time, we both share our identity with them and don’t. In some ways, there’s no one more deeply ‘identical’ than you and your child. But in other ways, of course — marvelously awesome and frustrating ways — there’s no one more deeply different, precisely because your kid’s differences with you are so intimately connected to your own differences with him or her. That’s the amazing foundation of an astonishing kind of relationship. There’s nothing like it. Not even friendship compares.

In our broader relations with at first undifferentiated ‘others’, it makes us happy to develop friendships. There’s something inherent, I think, in the connection between friendship and happiness. A happy society is one where lots and lots of people are friends with each other — where there are ‘thick webs of social trust,’ as an academic might say. And yes, a happy family is one where relations are of a kind we’d describe in popular shorthand as ‘friendly’…but that’s not quite it. That’s not the full story, is it?

Happiness might not be beside the point of life. But the stubborn persistence of family leads me to believe that oftentimes we humans want, maybe desperately, maybe in spite of ourselves, something more than happiness. If we ignore this in our political life, we’re going to wind up with a system of laws and a power structure that cuts against the grain of that powerful human longing. And the costs of that might be very high indeed.

James Joyner:

Moreover, I’d argue that the definitions of “happiness” at work here are dubious.

My 17-month-old woke up a few minutes ago and interrupted my writing.  She does that kind of thing a lot.   Indeed, pretty much every morning.   And when she does, I have to stop what I’m doing, usually at an inopportune time.   And that makes me unhappy!

Is this momentary inconvenience outweighed by the joy she brings me?  Of course.

But having kids means constant diversion from doing what you want to be doing at any given moment.  And having multiple children, I’m reliably told, tends to increase that phenomenon geometrically.    Indeed, parents the world over agree:  Kids are a giant pain in the ass!

Those of us who are reasonably intelligent and had children by conscious decision knew all this going in.   Indeed, one of the amusing things about impending first-time fatherhood is the number of people who dispense the advice “It’ll change your life!”   But that doesn’t make the sacrifices and trade-offs less real.

While I’m a social scientist by training, I’m not a sociologist, much less steeped in the literature in question here.   But I don’t know that it’s possible to develop measures to quantify the thousands of instances of “unhappiness” that come from the annoyances of parenthood and the less frequent but far more potent joys.   And I certainly don’t think it’s possible to do it in a way that satisfies an economist’s notion of “happiness.”

UPDATE: Jennifer Senior in New York Magazine

Ezra Klein

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