Author archives: Michael Fragoso


by Michael Fragoso

October 30, 2008

Jon Last has a fascinating article at the Weekly Standard on the depressingly sad state of the Icelandic economy-which historically hasn’t done all that bad ever since Erik the Red and his Viking cohorts settled the place a thousand or so years ago. As one might expect, inept government interventions and political posturing played very large roles in the collapse. I, for one, hope it gets better, given that Icelanders with no work or money are going to be looking for something to do. When someone descended from Vikings named “Magnusson” is looking for something to do, it’s time for some people to get worried-yes, I’m talking to you Newfoundland, Scotland, Ireland, England, and Normandy.

Worth and Welfare

by Michael Fragoso

September 10, 2008

All the recent hullabaloo over Gov. Palin’s son with Down syndrome, Trig, has reminded me of an excellent recent book: Worth and Welfare in the Controversy over Abortion, by Christopher Miles Coope. 

Coope, a medical ethicist by practice and a philosopher of psychology and language by training, does an interesting job of evaluating the ethics of abortion (writ large, consciously bypassing so-called “hard cases”) by taking a somewhat peripatetic approach, avoiding the dogmatism that often comes from a consciously systematic metaphysics. 

Coope admits that he “recently” came to the question of abortion in a serious way.  In his youth he considered it some, falling into the secularist camp of Glanville Williams more than anything else.  He went on to make a philosophical career without giving the matter much thought.  Then:

I dare say the matter never crossed my mind until, many years later, my wife was pregnant with our fourth child.  Since she was then well in her thirties she was of course offered ‘the tests.’  Well, who wants a damaged baby?  I was, I remember, quite anxious that the chromosomes should carefully be counted.  I just refused to consider what if.  Distressing choices, I must have said to myself, should not be faced while it was still unsettled whether the question arose.  In dedicating the book to the memory of the child in question, my son and good friend Nicholas, who died on the cliffs of Glen Cova while I was writing it, I cannot help but thinking back to these beginnings.  I am acutely aware that had ‘the tests’ turned out differently, he might well have been killed by doctors, with my connivance, before he was born.  Luck saved him - and me.  How many there are who have not been lucky. 

Through his recognition of the moral and emotional difficulties inherent in prenatal testing as it exists today-namely in its propensity to lead towards destruction of “damaged” babies-the rather liberal Coope decided to give us a splendid book.  Likewise, it is hard to see Gov. Palin’s meteoric rise with Trig at her side and not conclude that her decision to have and to raise a child with Down syndrome has struck a public chord in some way or another.  All this leads me to think there is, culturally, more under the surface on this facet of the abortion debate than meets the eye.

Nancy’s War on Science

by Michael Fragoso

August 28, 2008

By the time Nancy Pelosi digs herself out of the hole her abortion comments have gotten her into, she’ll likely have reached some of the crude oil she’s keeping off the market.

In defending her utterly baffling assertion that the “doctors of the Church” never were in agreement on when life begins she now cites some lesser commentary by St. Augustine (Questiones de Exodo), which states, “the law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation.” 

One gets the impression that Pelosi had some vague memory about Augustine on abortion and then some poor staffer had to go digging around the endnotes of Michael Gorman’s Abortion & the Early Church (a pretty reliable little book, I might add). I’m now curious to know if Pelosi ascribes to all of Augustine’s positions, or merely those that appear to be convenient to her.  Is it wrong to cry over sad love stories?  Must sex always have a reproductive intent?  What’s the moral status of concubinage?  Is slavery always wrong?

Never mind the fact that Augustine still thought embryonic abortion was immoral (see On Marriage and Concupiscence), and later in life complicated his own earlier views on ensoulment.  The fact is that his alleged support for Pelosi is reliant on incomplete, 5th century science.  His determination on the soul of the embryo/fetus is based on the empirical determination of science: does the early child in the womb have “sensation”?  At the time the answer seemed to be “no.”  Now we know, through advances in embryology, that from conception we have a living human being, animated in its self-directed development from the first instant of fertilization. 

Apparently Pelosi would rather base her political opinions on the natural philosophy of ancient Romans than on modern science.  What’s next, a Medicare Prescription Leach Bill?  A Congressional task force ensuring that the American people have their humors in proper balance? 

Tilting at Windmills

by Michael Fragoso

August 20, 2008

I find it difficult to describe how boneheaded Mike Bloomberg’s newest idea is.  CBS News calls the plan, to put windmills on New York City bridges “bold.”  It’s not bold.  It’s ugly. 

New York’s suspension bridges are part of the artistic patrimony of the United States.  They were made for one specific purpose: allowing people to travel from one point to another without getting wet.  With this goal in mind, engineers designed the bridges to do so safely, while also taking into consideration construction economy, design efficiency and overall aesthetic elegance.  The consideration of these factors, coupled with and driven by economic growth in New York at the turn of the last century, impressive developments in industrial steel production, and sophisticated engineering load-calculation resulted in a wonderful flurry of suspension bridge construction uniting New York City unto itself and its neighbors.

The relationship between form and function in New York bridge engineering can be seen in the difference between the bridges.  Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, designed in the days of carts, pedestrians, and trolleys, brings people from the industrial heart of Brooklyn to the financial heart of Manhattan with a stony classical grace.  On the other hand, Ammann’s George Washington Bridge-along with the Chrysler Building, one of the great paeans to the automobile-accommodates 14 lanes of private and commercial motorcar traffic (opposed to the Brooklyn Bridge’s six non-commercial lanes) using the superior mobility granted by automobile travel to span a narrower area of the Hudson with an ingress point at the less bustling Upper Manhattan.  These bridges were designed to facilitate different sorts of movement, and they do so spectacularly and uniquely, while providing beautiful aesthetic experiences in the process.

Now, in Mayor Mike’s preening greening scheme simply allowing people to access his city isn’t good enough for these marvels of engineering.  The spans that linked a series of unruly islands into the greatest city on earth no longer have sufficient economic or cultural value to continue their stolid duties unmolested.  No, they need to be retrofitted with windmills to look like steal islands planted tight with pinwheels.  Their forms, their functions, and their histories have to go by the wayside because Bloomberg wants his city to be the greenest city.

Therein lies the problem with much of the environmentalist movement.  People should conserve; clean energy is a good thing.  But is it such a good thing that it warrants the mutilation of majestic structural art, embedded in the public consciousness and of great historical significance?  Mayor Bloomberg and his cohorts seem to think so.  The posturing moralism of the few leads to banal ugliness for the many.  Wagner had it almost right with his planned book (The Unbeauty of Civilization): What we’re dealing with is the unbeauty of liberal civilization. 

Go World USA

by Michael Fragoso

August 14, 2008

I was watching the Olympics last night, and was struck by a number of things. When, exactly, did “beach volleyball” become an Olympic sport-and why isn’t there any Kenny Loggins playing during the game? Is Michael Phelps really the guy from Waterworld? And most importantly, what is Visa thinking?

Their series of “Go World” commercials defy any sort of explanation. Narrated by Lucius Fox-err, Morgan Freeman-and put to music clearly lifted from an exhibit in Epcot Center, they strive to embody the very soppiest of Olympic-tide twattle.

We’re told, “We don’t always agree, but for a few shining weeks we set it all aside…” Right. Tell that to the people of Georgia. Freeman goes on, “[We] come together, and stand, and cheer, and celebrate, as one.” We act as one. That’s rich, given that the games are being hosted by the ideological step children of history’s most bloodthirsty and murderous collectivist. “We forget all the things that make us different, and remember all the things that make us the same.” I guess some people in the Chinese government missed the memo on that. Oops. We’re lastly admonished to take up a new cheer: Go World.

Listen, I’m perfectly fine with athleticism for athleticism’s sake. I think it’s just great. I respected Curt Schilling pitching a masterful game seven in the 2004 ALCS with a torn up ankle-even though he was playing for a bunch of dirty Boston scrubs against the greatest team in the history of sports. In fact, Leon Kass and Eric Cohen recently had an excellent piece The New Republic on how the human good of pure athleticism is the benchmark ethical criterion for discussions of performance enhancement. This Visa campaign is not that. What we have here is trite utopian One-Worldery channeled into a sentimentalist corporate ad campaign. It would probably be par for the course with the Olympics, but given both the tense state of world affairs and the brutal tyranny of the Chinese Communist host regime it is not only in bad taste but is insulting.

The Chinese regime wants us to overlook their current despotic ways-and forget that these are but minor peccadilloes compared to the grievous sins of their not-so-distant past-amidst a tidal wave of artificial pomp and ginned-up false unity. The recently departed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn warned us against that sort of historical amnesia, and it’s a shame that Visa is willing to help us along that path. It didn’t used to be that useful idiots and fellow travelers could count among their ranks international conglomerations. So much for the Running Dog…

Ezra Pounds the Human Rights Tribunals

by Michael Fragoso

August 7, 2008

Via NRO I see that Ezra Levant, a Canadian magazine publisher, has been acquitted by the kangaroo Human Rights Tribunal that had been investigating him.  His account of the acquittal-and further denunciations of his inquisitors is here.  I once heard Levant speak here in Washington and he was just as full of justified indignation then as he seems to be now.  In Canada these tribunals have been used by radical Muslims to silence critics of Islam and by homosexual activists to silence religious speech they find offensive.

On the Islamic side, the experiences of people like Levant are dangerously close to the experiences of those who live in Muslim countries and have to face “blasphemy laws.”  These blasphemy laws are a growing problem in many countries, since they are often used to repress religious minorities and to silence political opponents.  They also are part-and-parcel of a growing problem at the international level, namely the ten-year effort to establish “defamation of religion” as a prohibited action by customary international law.  In other words it would be a blasphemy law as an international norm.  (The Becket Fund has been watching this issue carefully, especially as it would affect established religious liberty.)

On the Christian side, the Canadian tribunals might be a forerunner of what we might see in the United States with expanded hate-crimes laws and same-sex marriage.  As Levant mentions in his piece, one Canadian man of the cloth has already been forbidden to discuss certain tenets of his faith.  In Sweden, Pastor Ake Green was also brought up on charges for denouncing homosexuality (see our brief in the case here).  At least in Green’s case, however, he was tried in standard courts, and acquitted.  As Levant points out, these tribunals are far murkier and less accountable for their actions.  (“The process is the punishment,” I heard him say.)  Their slow importation into the United States poses a serious threat to religious liberty, as we are already learning in places like New Mexico.

So congratulations to Ezra Levant, but we should pay close attention to his story, lest it just be a prologue for similar petty tyranny here in the United States.

Sister, can you spare an egg?

by Michael Fragoso

August 4, 2008

Stories have been floating around—probably thanks to Drudge—about more women donating eggs because they’re strapped for cash. Leaving aside the possible risks of egg donation and the ethics of in vitro fertilization, this speaks to a potentially growing problem of what happens when human life — in the form of human tissue or organs — is commoditized.

I once spoke on a panel dealing with the question of whether we should change the existing laws to provide monetary incentives for organ donations. A co-panelist of mine argued that a grave danger in monetizing body parts comes from a radical reevaluation of self-worth to reflect actual cash value. He gave the dystopian hypothetical of a student applying for financial aid, and being denied by the college administrator, “Well, your bank account is lean, but you still have 2 kidneys and a whole lot of eggs, so we calculate your net worth at $30,000.” The fact that some women see cashing in on their eggs as the logical step when the economy tightens does not reassure that such a hypothetical and ironic devaluation of human life is an impossibility.

Wait, there are two Sallies?

by Michael Fragoso

July 30, 2008

Where to begin with this story… A nurse in Birmingham, England gave an abortifacient drug to the wrong woman. It seems that in the interests of confidentiality, they call women from the waiting room by their first names-whereupon the nurse is to verify the identity. It just so happens that a woman who wanted a consultation and a woman who wanted an abortion shared the same first name. Guess which one got the abortion-confidentially, of course.

Sadly this is not unheard of in Europe. A 2004 case of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Vo v. France, dealt with precisely the same issue. In the case at hand Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, was mistaken for another woman while at the hospital for prenatal care, and mistakenly given an abortion. She sued under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected.”) to vindicate the lost right of her child. Of course the ECHR was about to do no such thing.

Both cases reflect the awful truth about abortion in our society: it’s not about choice at all. The nurse in Birmingham violated the mother’s freedom of choice by giving her an undesired abortion, and she gets to keep her nursing job with a “caution” on her permanent record. Vo’s freedom of choice was violated and the ECHR refused to acknowledge the rights of the child she grieved. But what’s a mother’s choice to have a child next to the goal of legalized abortion? After all, the pro-aborts say, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

Platinum Engagement (Nose)rings?

by Michael Fragoso

July 16, 2008

In a recent letter to the Desert Sun the Rev. Kevin A. Johnson firmly asserts that “marriage has improved over history.”  I am of the view that in many ways marriage has changed, and for the better; however its fundamental nature of being between men and women has not and cannot.  Further, Pastor Johnson’s understanding of this “improvement” is silly and self-defeating.

He argues that we can find evidence of how much better marriage is today than it was before in the story of Isaac and Rebecca.  He says, “I was interested to note the customs reported and startled to read where the wedding ring was placed - not on a finger but in her nose. It was not a sign of unending grace and intended fidelity but a receipt of transferred ownership of the daughter from the father to the new husband.”  I am no expert in Sumerian mating practices, but this strikes me as fishy.  While contemporary secondary scholarship might say differently, I recall no indication in the Bible of Isaac turning Rebecca into Ferdinand the Bull.  King James and Douai-Reims both mention “earrings”-a term supported by St. Jerome in the Vulgate (“inaures”).  While the image of women brutally subjugated and treated like cattle under traditional “Biblical” marriage makes a convenient image for the Pastor to use in pillorying conservative Christians, it sadly seems to have little actual Biblical support.

What does have Biblical support in the time of Abraham and Isaac, however, is polygamy.  Polygamy’s relegation to the dustbin of social custom in the Judeo-Christian world is certainly one of the preeminent ways in which “marriage has improved over history.”  Yet, this same decision by the California Supreme Court, so celebrated by Pastor Johnson, opens the door to legalized polygamy in the United States.  (The ball here is already moving in cases like Holm v. Utah.)  I wonder, when some of his neighbors use the precedents set in California to return to the polygamy of the Patriarchs, if Pastor Johnson will see fit to preach on “irony”?

Wearing Black on Bastille Day

by Michael Fragoso

July 14, 2008

Today is Bastille Day-the day in which the French celebrate their wretched Revolution.  To commemorate the Eldest Daughter of the Church’s descent into anarchy and despotism, here is Edmund Burke’s take on the events that followed the Storming of the Bastille:

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles, and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in - glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.

That of sophisters, economists; and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.