"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

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Four reasons to dislike the Susan G. Komen Foundation

So I’ve decided to write a post trashing the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the gigantic charitable endeavor that fights breast cancer.  “What?!” I hear someone scream.  “Are you pro-breast cancer?”  No, I am not.  I very much hate breast cancer.  I would not want anyone to get it, and would not want to prevent anyone who has it from being cured.  In that regard I would hope that everyone who reads this agrees.

I am going after the Susan G. Komen Foundation because of the way it operates.  There’s been a change in how charity gets done in America over the past generation or so.  The overall amount of charity, relative to the economy, has been fairly constant, but the sociology of how it operates is changing, and Komen is out in front of the negative changes in a big way.  So on to the reasons.

Komen beats up on smaller charities.  The foundation claims that it can use the words “for the cure”, and no one else can.   It would be a violation of trademark, don’t you see?  Yes, the tiny charitable venture known as “Kites for the Cure” that raises money for cancer by letting children fly kites is a mortal danger to the Komen behemoth.  Honestly.  That’s why Komen needs to send big-league lawyers to harass anyone who uses the words “for the cure” in their name.  But what exact threat does any other charity pose by using those words.  Businesses obviously want to beat other businesses, but should a charity seek to beat other charities?

Komen doesn’t spend much on research.  If you only have a casual knowledge of Komen’s activities, you’d think that their primary purpose is to raise money for actual research towards a cure.  Actually it isn’t.  Fundraising and administrative costs take up roughly twenty percent of their budget, including more than half a million in salary for the foundation’s President and ritzy travel expenses for other bigwigs.  That’s not actually very bad; most charities are in the same ballpark.

No, the problem is that the Komen Foundation’s doesn’t actually spend the bulk of its money on research, but rather on education.  There’s nothing wrong with education, of course, as long as it’s actually educational.  Much of Komen’s output is not, as the link above demonstrates.  Which leads us to the third reason.

Conflicts of interest.  The best ways to prevent breast cancer from even forming are the same as the best ways to prevent cancer overall.  Eat a good diet, avoid carcinogenic chemicals, and exercise.  Yet the Komen Foundation doesn’t focus on these things in its advertising, instead emphasizing the need for screening and preventive medical care.  There’s nothing wrong with screening, of course, but a healthy lifestyle should be the primary focus if we really want to cut the disease down to size.  Moreover, Komen either gets money from or invests in companies that make unhealthy products such as packaged meats.

Tackiness and ugliness.  Komen has been remarkably successful at getting its signature pink ribbon and other symbols plastered onto anything and everything, from tents and huge inflatable markers to yogurt and paper products.  Yesterday I bought a can of ordinary table salt and found the ribbon on it, which is what inspired this post.

That, of course, is only the beginning.  The foundation seems to have an obsession with sticking its logo everywhere, much as Nike did with the ‘swoosh’ when I was a kid.  I find this ugly and distasteful.  I find most advertising ugly and distasteful, but few campaigns have been taken to such extremes as the Komen campaign.  Pursuing a cause, even a good cause, does not require that we cover every available square inch with garrish decorations.  Most people, I’m sure, don’t want to say this, lest it look like they value aesthetics above saving lives.  I do not.  Saving lives should come first, of course, but this carpet-bombing with tacky advertising and fundraising does not save anyone’s life.  Komen could be just as effective–perhaps more effective–if they showed some restraint.

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Chesterton on the Social Sciences

Now we do talk first about the disease in cases of bodily breakdown; and that for an excellent reason. Because, though there may be doubt about the way in which the body broke down, there is no doubt at all about the shape in which it should be built up again. No doctor proposes to produce a new kind of man, with a new arrangement of eyes or limbs. The hospital, by necessity, may send a man home with one leg less: but it will not (in a creative rapture) send him home with one leg extra. Medical science is content with the normal human body, and only seeks to restore it.

But social science is by no means always content with the normal human soul; it has all sorts of fancy souls for sale. Man as a social idealist will say “I am tired of being a Puritan; I want to be a Pagan,” or “Beyond this dark probation of Individualism I see the shining paradise of Collectivism.” Now in bodily ills there is none of this difference about the ultimate ideal. The patient may or may not want quinine; but he certainly wants health No one says “I am tired of this headache; I want some toothache,” or “The only thing for this Russian influenza is a few German measles,” or “Through this dark probation of catarrh I see the shining paradise of rheumatism.” But exactly the whole difficulty in our public problems is that some men are aiming at cures which other men would regard as worse maladies; are offering ultimate conditions as states of health which others would uncompromisingly call states of disease. Mr. Belloc once said that he would no more part with the idea of property than with his teeth; yet to Mr. Bernard Shaw property is not a tooth, but a toothache. Lord Milner has sincerely attempted to introduce German efficiency; and many of us would as soon welcome German measles. Dr. Saleeby would honestly like to have Eugenics; but I would rather have rheumatics.

– G. K. Chesterton, What is Wrong with the World

An atheist argument that I don’t understand.

I’m sure that almost everyone who participates in debates about religion online has heard some version of this argument.  It’s when an atheist tries to explain the origins of religion, and it goes something like this: “Primitve people didn’t understand the cause of natural phenomena such as the weather and earthquakes, so they made up gods and religion to explain those things.”  The obvious import of this argument is that since the atheist now has explained where religion comes from, he’s also proven that religion is invalid, since we now know that gods and spirits and such don’t actually cause natural phenomena.

The only problem with this argument is that it makes no sense at all.  Did primitive people make up religion so that they could explain weather and earthquakes and other such phenomena?  In other words, did religion begin with a dialogue between two cavemen somewhat like this:

Thag: Garg, I do not understand why the weather and earthquakes occur.

Garg: I do not either.

Thag: I wish that I understood why the weather and earthquakes occur.

Garg: So do I.

Thag: Let us make up some gods and a religion, and then we’ll have an explanation for why weather and earthquakes occur.

Garg: Good idea, Thag!  If we make up some gods and a religion, then we will know why weather and earthquakes occur.

The flaw in this argument is obvious.  If Thag and Garg make something up, they will know that they made it up, so they will know that it isn’t true.

So what is the origin of religion?  I don’t know.  I don’t know when or where the world’s first religion came into existence, and I certainly don’t know the circumstances under which it happened.  Neither does anyone else.  In short, it’s those who give the silly explanations for why religion originated who are really guilty of what they accuse others of doing.  They face of phenomenon that they don’t understand, namely the existence of religion.  Then they make up a fictional explanation for that phenomenon.  Then they start believing that their fictional explanation is the correct one.

The Super Bowl

I started this blog almost exactly one year ago, and around that time I watched the Super Bowl and wrote one of my first posts about the ads contained therein.  This seemed appropriate.  When I was a kid, I watched the Super Bowl every year, and was very much in tune with the post-modernist zeitgeist of caring more about the ads than about the football game.  Besides which, almost everyone in America watched the Super Bowl, the ads cost a lot of money, and that made it all worth watching.

Some years later I began to question the doctrine that something was worth watching just because it cost a lot of money to make and a lot of other people watched it.  Sometime after that, when I’d converted to Christianity, I even considered that huge budgets and massive audiences might suggest that something was not worth watching.  Nevertheless, I have watched the Super Bowl during both of the past two years, chiefly because friends invited me to parties and I felt it would be rude to refuse.

That said, this year I did manage to skip some of the ads by hiding in the kitchen or merely turning my eyes away from the screen.  Among those that I did see, it looked as if the two major themese were naked (or nearly naked) people and celebrities that I didn’t recognize.  The minor themes were polar bears and Prohibition.  There was nothing that struck me as positive or uplifting, and there was a lot that I wish I hadn’t seen.  In particular, I wondered about the effects when children age 8, 7, 6 or even younger see over and over again the message that women exist only to take their clothes off.  That’s been the theme of every godaddy.com commercial as far as I know, but now it’s expanding into ads such as the dreadful one for the Toyota Camry.  (While there’s always been plenty of reason to complain about the media treating women as objects, few ads take it as literally as that one.)

Since it is traditional to pick a favorite, I choose this one:

However, overall the crop was quite poor.  Perhaps next year I won’t bother watching.

More of Chesterton on Population Control

Here’s some more from the same essay that I quoted from earlier.  In this passage, Chesterton takes on the central contradiction of leftists who support population control.  On the one hand, these people claim that they support the poor and are trying to help the poor.  Much of their identity is wrapped up in the idea that they supposedly love the poor and want to save the them from the horrible excesses of capitalism.  Yet every population control effort that’s ever existed has attacked the rights of the poor while leaving the rich alone, which might lead some people to suspect that getting rid of the poor is the real motive behind population control efforts.

If anybody doubts that this is the very simple motive, let him test it by the very simple statements made by the various Birth-Controllers like the Dean of St. Paul’s. They never do say that we suffer from a too bountiful supply of bankers or that cosmopolitan financiers must not have such large families. They do not say that the fashionable throng at Ascot wants thinning, or that it is desirable to decimate the people dining at the Ritz or the Savoy. Though, Lord knows, if ever a thing human could look like a sub-human jungle, with tropical flowers and very poisonous weeds, it is the rich crowd that assembles in a modern Americanized hotel.

But the Birth-Controllers have not the smallest desire to control that jungle. It is much too dangerous a jungle to touch. It contains tigers. They never do talk about a danger from the comfortable classes, even from a more respectable section of the comfortable classes. The Gloomy Dean is not gloomy about there being too many Dukes; and naturally not about there being too many Deans. He is not primarily annoyed with a politician for having a whole population of poor relations, though places and public salaries have to be found for all the relations. Political Economy means that everybody except politicians must be economical.

The Birth-Controller does not bother about all these things, for the perfectly simple reason that it is not such people that he wants to control. What he wants to control is the populace, and he practically says so. He always insists that a workman has no right to have so many children, or that a slum is perilous because it is producing so many children. The question he dreads is “Why has not the workman a better wage? Why has not the slum family a better house?” His way of escaping from it is to suggest, not a larger house but a smaller family. The landlord or the employer says in his hearty and handsome fashion: “You really cannot expect me to deprive myself of my money. But I will make a sacrifice, I will deprive myself of your children.”

-G. K. Chesterton, Social Reform versus Birth Control

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, an official holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.  A very official holiday, and one on which all government offices and the great majority of businesses are very careful to do nothing, lest by doing something they might show disrespect ot Dr. King.  Yes, I think we can agree that Martin Luther King, Jr., is one of the most widely loved, admired, and respected Americans in living memory.  He has a brand new monument on the Mall in Washington and countless smaller monuments and events dedicated to him around the country.

Yet there’s one thing that’s missing from our honor of Dr. King: any significant focus on what he actually wrote and said.  Typically, if a society honors and celebrates an individual, it will also widley distribute the speeches, writings, and other works of that individual.  In the case of America and Dr. King, a few journalists will quote a few snippets from the ‘I Have a Dream Speech’, but most Americans will never hear anything more than that from the man himself.

Why should that be?  Partially because he was too Christian, and real Christianity is outlawed in some places and strongly discouraged in others.  How many people even know that his full title is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr?  Any public school teacher who actually read one of King’s sermons–or worse yet, forced students to study it–would soon be looking for a new job.  the New York Times may claim to print “everything that’s fit to print”, but it will be a long time before they print a full-length sermon, and much of King’s best writing was in sermon form.

And partially because King’s ideas are too disturbing to the current social order.  The thing was that King didn’t restrict himself merely to fighting laws that discriminated against blacks.  Rather he laid forth a moral vision and a call to battle against all forms of injustice.  That included economic injustice as well as political.  Hence we’ll here little about what King truly believed.  With that said, I’ll wrap up with some of the best parts from his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail:

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

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My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

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I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

Christopher Hitchens

I woke up this morning and logged onto the internet and the first news I encountered was the death of Christopher Hitchens.  Newspapers, magazines, and websites are overflowing with obituaries for him, and they will be for the next few days.  All of them will mention that he was a headstrong atheist who proudly attacked religious believers with whatever insults came into his head.  They will also praise him for his intellectual skill, principles, and writing talent.  None, at least among the ones that I’ve written, will mention that he spent almost his whole life promoting communism.

When I was a  child, my family subscribed to The Nation.  From its pages, along with a few other sources and some assists from family members, I picked up the fact that communism was a pretty good system.  That Lenin and Trotsky and Castro were decent fellows, that Stalin may have had a few flaws, but that Che Guevara was awesome.  It was quite a surprise to learn, over the course of my college and graduate school years, that this was all false, and that all these men along with countless other communist dictators were actually brutal mass murderers.  But that’s the truth.

Here’s another truth: Christopher Hitch was the number one proponent of communism in the USA for decades and he was durn proud of it.  In his book Koba the Dread, Martin Amis mentions the odd truth that it American society it’s unacceptable to say anything nice about Hiter and the Nazis, but quite all right to praise Lenin and the Soviet communists.  Exhibit A for this strange phenomenon is Christopher Hitchens.  He spent many years at The Nation rolling out support for the Soviet Union as well as Red China and communist regimes all over the world.  He obviously knew full well that these regimes were responsible for killing tens of millions of innocent people, yet he celebrated and promoted them anyway.  He also viciously lashed out at anyone who supported peace and freedom anywhere.  While the people of Poland struggled valiantly for freedom against the Soviet oppressors, Hitchens savagely attacked them for being Catholic, and he had nothing but insults for Pope John Paul II, the world’s leading freedom fighter.  After communism fell apart, he ended up jumping to the neo-conservative’s flagship magazine, The Weekly Standard, where he helped drum up support for a war in Iraq that’s killed over a million civilians.  It would seems that the only principle Hitchens clung to throughout his life was to always support whoever was doing the most mass slaughter.

We are, of course, ordered by Jesus to love and pray for our enemies.  I will pray for Mr. Hitchens but I won’t feel all that much sympathy.  That’s more reserved for the millions of people who were killed, tortured, or imprisoned by the regimes that he proudly supported.

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