Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Review 374: Papal Sin

PAPAL SIN: Structures of Deceit, by Garry Wills. 326 pages. Doubleday paperback, $14.95

Garry Wills is an American who shares the opinion about papal authority of rightwing hero Lord Acton. But since Wills is an American, he, unlike Acton, does not let the pope silence him.

This has led to some entertaining books although his impact on the Catholic Church has been approximately nil.

Only one part of “Papal Sin” has much relevance to non-Catholics, the first part about the church’s (by which we mean the Curia’s) attempt to falsify its role in the Holocaust. Writing from a Catholic perspective (although he is considered a heretic by rightwing Catholics, Wills has not been condemned by the Holy Office or even his rightwing bishop in Chicago), Wills manages to glide past the most relevant facts.

The ones he chooses to engage are disturbing enough. He focuses on the canonization of Edith Stein, born a Jew but converted to Catholicism and killed by the Nazis. The church argues that Stein was killed for her faith, making her a martyr. Wills says, convincingly, that the intention of the murderer, not the victim, is what makes a martyr; and the Germans did not murder Stein because she was a Catholic but because she was, in their reasoning, still and always a Jew.

By claiming a phony martyr, the popes could say, “See, we too were victims of the Nazi crimes,” except, of course, Catholics were not victims of the Nazis. Catholics trying to cover up the crimes of the church against the Jews also like to point out the numbers of priests who were jailed or shot by the Germans; but what they don’t ever say is that, like Stein, they were not killed for being Catholics but for being nationalists.

Polish priests were killed in plenty, but that was because they were Polish patriots not because they were Catholic priests. German priests were not rounded up and shot.

Wills, usually fearless, really does pull his punch here. He says he does not need to enter the debate about whether Pius XII was “Hitler’s pope.” Of course he was, and Wills even provides the most striking evidence that proves it: He notes, without explaining its significance, that in December 1942 Pius called for an end to the fighting. This is presented by Catholics as a pastoral duty of a pope to oppose violence and as an unpolitical, moral stance.

Baloney. Wills certainly knows what the map of Europe and North Africa looked like in late 1942. Hitler’s conquests reached their maximum in October. In November the antifascists counterattacked and it was obvious they were regaining the ascendancy. Pius intervened immediately to try to assure that Europe remained Nazi.

In the rest of the book, Wills demolishes the lies and tortured reasoning that the papacy uses to oppose contraception, abortion, women priests and married priests. He mocks John Paul II for arranging things so that the church ended up with a mostly homosexual priesthood, much diminished in numbers (down 90% in the United States), so that many parishes don’t get even a gay priest.

What Wills predicted in 2000 has come true, and then some, since. However, it is of no consequence to non-Catholics whether women can be ordained or not; and as for contraception, even Catholics pay no attention to the church’s teaching about that.

They do, to some extent pay attention to the teaching about abortion and that is of interest in non-Catholics because of its impact on secular politics; but Wills notes that Jesus never said a word about abortion. (There is nothing about it in the Torah either.) His deconstruction of the church’s teachings on the subject are worth reading, even if you are not Catholic.

Likewise his brief history of the despotism of Pius IX, whom he blames for trapping the church and future popes into structures of deceit that require them to lie to the faithful about what is in — or not in — their own Holy Scriptures. This is somewhat unfair to Pio Nono, who was every bit as bad as Wills paints him but who hardly invented papal despotism.

Then there are two chapters about St. Augustine’s views about truth. Wills has always been a big fan of the old demon-hunter but he is led far astray this time, following Augustine down a path that leads to indifference to destruction of human beings. Wills does not notice that these chapters end up contradicting his chapter on abortion.

In the last chapter — which particularly enrages popolatrous Catholics — Wills rather gives the back of his hand to Jesus’s talents as a preacher. It turns out — according to Wills —that Jesus was so unclear that it took a 20th-century French philosopher to finally work out what he was getting at.

Wills is always an interesting writer and he personifies the odd position of most American Catholics, who give money and profess allegiance to the teachings and preachings of the pope in Rome but whose actual behavior is hard to distinguish from that of American Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, atheists and Muslims.



Sunday, October 23, 2016

There is a wall between Mexico & the US already

It is difficult to see, but it works.

The screwworm, a particularly unpleasant kind of blowfly, used to attack cattle — and sometimes people — in the southern states. In 1959, a wall was put up and how the fly is gone, although it has recently reinfested the Florida Keys.

Since the fly mates just once in its lifetime, entomologists reasoned that if they could flood the zone with sterile males, none of the females’ eggs would hatch and the fly would be eliminated.

(This technique has been used with fruit flies in Hawaii, but with less success, for several reasons, one of which is that fruit flies mate more than once.)

So a gigantic screwworm fly hatchery was established in Texas. During peak seasons it was using 200,000 pounds of pork lungs a week to grow flies. The females were killed and the males were irradiated to sterility and released by the tens of billions along the border with Mexico.

I have my doubts whether the enviromaniacs would permit this today; they panic at the word radiation, but this was in the ‘50s.

Soon enough the flies were gone from the United States. By 1991 they were gone from Mexico, too, and today the technique is being used to push them back in Central and South America, although it seems unlikely they can ever be completely eliminated from the jungles. Presumably the flies re-entered the Keys from Central America.

What, you are asking, does this have to do with Trump and his fantasy wall to keep out Mexicans? Nothing, it’s just a curiosity, and a signal of the modernization of Mexico as it grows in wealth.

And perhaps that Robert Frost was wrong when he said good fences make good neighbors.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The most valuable land on Maui

The huhu over the Iao Stream diversion is a diversion from the real concern about water on Maui. I’ll get back to the diversion, but first let’s examine the area.

Na Wai Eha watershed supplies most of Maui’s domestic water — all of Central and South Maui’s — either by recharging the aquifer or by feeding the streams. The heart of the watershed is 13,700 acres of conservation land owned in fee by Wailuku Water Co. LLC.

This is the most valuable land on Maui. If it becomes degraded, we cannot live here.

It could happen. Miconia has destroyed the forests of Tahiti.

There is a West Maui Watershed Partnership that attempts to protect the forest but it (along with the similar East Maui organization) is chronically underfunded. Just knowing what is happening in the forest is knowledge expensive to obtain. The land is almost inaccessible to humans though birds and spores can get there easily.

Despite the fantasies of the diversion protesters, Wailuku Water does not earn corporate profits from the water it harvests. It has been losing money for years. It does not have the funds to properly manage the forest.

Obviously, if water is a public trust, this land ought to be in public ownership. Mayor Arakawa does not understand this. Years ago, he tried to buy just the water collection and delivery system. He was properly stiffed by Wailuku Water.

There is no indication he has learned about water since,  but it is not essential that the county own the land. It could as well be the state. What cannot be sustained is private ownership.

(Amusing side note: while Arakawa was embarked on his silly bid for the intakes, the council acted even sillier. It decided it wanted a piece of the inaction, despite a recent charter amendment giving responsibility for water to the mayor. It hired a lawyer to “advise it of its [non-existent] rights.” The council eventually blew over a quarter of a million dollars on this nonsense. The lawyers’ report is still secret, because very embarrassing to the members, but we know what it said: butt out.)

For years, whenever anyone asked me about local politics, I had the same answer: Water is the only issue; if you don’t fix water, it doesn’t matter whether you fix anything else. Water has not been fixed although the most acute threat, the failure of Shaft 33, has been taken care of by abandoning and replacing that source.

Remarkably, water is now only fourth in this list of imminent disasters facing the county, proving that if you ignore a problem long enough you can turn it into a crisis. The gravest threat now is the failure of the hospital, followed in order by the collapse of Honoapiilani Highway in the vicinity of Ukumehame and the looming closure by the FAA of the crumbling runway 20-2 at the airport.

Back to the diversion. The West Maui Mountain was two miles high a million years ago. Now it is one mile high. A lot of rocks have been sluiced into the ocean, with big rocks crushing medium rocks into gravel along the way. It takes a big storm to move the rocks but these are frequent. There have been at least four in the past century, including one last month. It had been an unusually long time since the last — about 34 years, or before most of the diversion protesters were born.

If you hike far enough into the valley — I have been farther up than most, perhaps any, of the protesters — you can still see the impressive remains of the destruction the 1916 flood did to the then-new diversion structures. One piece in particular, a masonry wall that probably weighs 20 tons, is a mile from where it was built.

No diversions are permanent; all have to be rebuilt if people with kuleana rights are to continue to have access to water.

Few of the kuleana users want the water for loi today — no one wants to work in the loi — but their rights derived from the Mahele are still legal, kingdom rights. Today, most need the water for their homes. It seems odd that the protesters are, in effect, demanding that indigenous rights be extinguished; odder still that they are out to damage the interests of some of the poorer Native Hawaiians.

(Amusing side note: years ago I was covering a very boring hearing on Na Wai Eha rights at the Queen Emma center. The documents contained surveys of the loi at issue carried out to the ten-thousandths of an acre (4 square feet). The room was covered with 12-inch linoleum squares, and I spent my time comparing the loi to the room we were in. The room was bigger.)

Are the rocks sacred? The alii were not buried in the riverbed, and the rocks in the river today were not in the river at the time the last alii burial was made. If they are sacred it is only by contagion; and if that’s the case, maybe the protesters should be demanding the evacuation of Happy Valley, or possibly all of Wailuku.
UPDATE: Some background about kuleana water access. I'd forgotetn I wrote this but the internet hardly ever forgets

And there's this.

It's nice that some of my stories were pirated since The Maui News digital archives are gone.

People who say, however, that the destruction of newspapers by wholesale theft of their intellectual property would be made good by reporting and dissemination of news by new sources were crazy. Nobody reports water news as well as I used to do it.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's a miracle!

Changing planes at Sky Harbor in Phoenix, Tricia and I were the last off. While we waited for a wheelchair for her, I chatted with the skycap, who apologized for our having to wait.

SKYCAP: We had requests for 9 chairs on this flight and we brought 7. That's why there's a delay

ME: That sounds like a lot

S: It is. Usually for this flight they request 7 and we bring 5

M: You mean there are people who need a wheelchair to get on the flight but walk off on their own?

S: Yeah. The flight attendants call them "jetway Jesuses"

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Local misgovernment

For many years, whenever anybody asked me about the local elections, I had the same answer: if we don't fix water, it won't matter whether we fix anything else (housing, Kihei high school, invasive species, you name it). And we haven't. Shaft 33 has been replaced, which was the most critical issue concerning water, but otherwise nothing significant has been done with the other deficiencies of the system.

However, another of my political maxims (which also works in business, and anywhere else) is that if you ignore a problem long enough, it can be manged into a crisis. So it is with the hospital. If that isn't fixed, there will soon b no more tourists and after that no more people on Maui. That's how things were before 1960.

Therefore, you might be interested in this:

Hospitals health emergency meeting, UH Maui Campus, Ike Le'a Science Auditorium, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday.
 This will be a joint informational meeting held by the State Senate committees on Health, Judiciary, and Ways & Means to examine the state of the Maui hospitals health care emergency resulting from delay in transferring management operations to Kaiser.

All the main players are expected to speak except, apparently, any union reps. No public testimony will be taken.

I am not sure what the significance of this meeting will be for the senators (I'm lookin' at you, Roz Baker), because they have shown no concern up till now and they -- along with the House -- created the problem by inventing the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.  Nevertheless, becase there has been zero transparency so far, I am planning to go myself.

Some background here in "How to destroy a hospital."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

He didn't think that one through. Or that one either

Politico has a clip showing Trump threatening that if the Democrats release more tapes of him saying bad things, he'll retaliate.


Trump didn't think this one through either. That is from The Huffington Post, which quotes the club-footed draft dodger as saying:
“I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with a lot of these people, that I can tell you, including Ryan ― by the way, including Ryan, especially Ryan,” Trump said.
What we need now is Sarah Palin to tell us what she thinks.

I haven't enjoyed politics this much since Senator McKellar of my home state of Tennessee whipped out his dick during a reception in the East Room of the White house and pissed on the ambassador from Belgium.   

Monday, October 10, 2016

Book Review 373: The Greatest Benefit to Mankind

THE GREATEST BENEFIT TO MANKIND: A Medical History of Humanity, by Roy Porter. 829 pages, illustrated. Norton paperback

Roy Porter’s history of medicine — intended to be comprehensive within the bounds of one volume — is somewhat triumphalist.

And why not? After 5,000 years of being unable to cure or prevent much of anything, about 150 years ago the scientific approach finally reached takeoff, so that today smallpox is eliminated and surgeons are able to repair the hearts of babies in the womb.

Yet Porter — who died young and undoctored in 2002 — is also somewhat pessimistic in “The Greatest Benefit of Mankind.”

And why not? In America at least half the population adheres to cults that still teach that disease is caused  by demons, and there are millions more (often overlapping the first category) who ignore scientific medicine in favor of quackery like chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, qi gong, Rolfing and who knows what other nonsense.

Porter spends about 200 mostly earnest, occasionally lively pages rehearsing the more or less self-conscious medical belief systems of the pre-moderns. He pays no attention to folk or unorganized medicine although these of course are a big part of the whole history of medicine and still much with us; practically everyone in Mexico believes in the imaginary illness called fallen fontanelle, and similar survivals can be found anywhere.

Then he plunges in with his famous (in his home country of England) gusto to the scientific approach, which can be dated almost precisely to 1543, the miracle year when men, at least in western Europe, began to shed the superstitions of 100,000 years. It was a mostly discouraging slog, at least from the perspective of healing, because even though genuine knowledge accumulated, slowly, then, from about 1800, quickly, methods of preventing or curing disease were not found.

Porter writes amusingly and with more than usual candor about the rare advances. We not only learn (what we already knew from other sources) that Samuel Pepys was successfully cut for stone but the icky procedure that the surgeons had to use.

Only once does Porter falter, when he credits the early Christians for inventing the concept of charity as exemplified in the first hospitals. John Boswell, in “The Kindness of Strangers: Child Abandonment in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance,” showed that something like hospitals were created hundreds of years before the alleged appearance of Jesus.

Porter is right to say that hospitals were not originally intended to preserve life but to assist men to a good death — the ars moriendi. Only much later did the concept of leaving a hospital arrive and later still the concentration of medical care in hospitals, soon to be renamed medical centers.

For most of medical history, doctors offered solace not healing. And still today, that is most of what customers are asking for. And, according to Porter, not getting it, which helps explain the embrace of chiropractic and suchlike quackery. He is right at least as far as the quest for solace goes; Numerous studies have found that most (around 60%) of visits to primary care doctors are from people who do not have any organic condition. They just feel bad. Add in the ones who go to chiropractors and the like and the proportion of pointless chasing of medical or pseudomedical attention must soar to some ridiculous figure.

However, the situation is not so simple. Even evangelical Christians who are told by, eg, Rev. Pat Robertson that disease is caused by demons go to scientific doctors, not witch-doctors,  when they are really sick. I recall an amusing though unself-aware instance at a public hearing years ago.

Health insurors generally decline to cover services for certain conditions if the modality chosen is one that does not provide emergency room care. The chiropractor testifying was aggrieved to be kept off that gravy train because, as he explained to the county council, there aren’t any chiropractic emergency rooms.

Of course not. Nobody in his right mind goes to a chiropractor when he is really sick.

Porter’s summary chapters on medicine, state and society and medicine and the people are useful, even if you have no interest in the history of medicine, for their succinct catalogue of most of the issues that the success of scientific medicine has created for itself. It will be particularly revealing for American rightwingers who have swallowed whole the lies told about Britain’s spectacularly successful National Health Service over the years.

What it cannot reveal is why Porter himself refused to go to any doctor.