Tell Them that Abortion Kills

CRDaily

 

Rightly so, the recently released Planned Parenthood videos have renewed calls for Congress to defund what can only be described as an insidious and dehumanizing organization – one that encourages abortion, all under the dishonest label of health and vitality. With increasing horror, these videos display the sheer callousness of the abortion industry, and they indirectly confirm what most people already know to be true: In order to traffic in the brutal maiming of human life, you have to also be the sort of person who can chuckle while discussing the strategic crushing of babies’ bodies, all for the benefit of privileged onlookers. You have to be the sort of person who tallies the livers of the dead with the same desensitization one might have expected to see within some barbaric clan from the Stone Age.

Indeed, the unsavory nature of the videos makes it easy for pro-lifers to direct all of their rage toward the personnel involved in carrying out abortions. This rage, of course, is largely warranted, and it’s manifested itself in renewed pressure to end federal ties with Planned Parenthood, a much more likely outcome if Democrats weren’t so obsessed with spending money and with protecting this vague “right” to privacy that seems to have magically appeared in the halls of the Supreme Court a few decades ago.

But even if conservatives in Congress eventually manage to exclude Planned Parenthood from the budget, the pro-life movement will still face serious challenges: Not only do abortions remain protected by Supreme Court precedence, but they also are somewhat fixed in the public consciousness as an acceptable means to save oneself from a lifelong burden. If pro-lifers want to truly triumph legislatively and institutionally, then they will have to win the arduous battles that are constantly raging in the culture war. For ultimately, the long-term key to defeating abortion lies not in defunding Planned Parenthood per se, but rather in revealing to moderates the insanity of abortion as a concept which, taken to its logical conclusion, supports the extermination of human life.

Pro-lifers will, for the sake of honest debate, need to convince others to take abortion for what it actually is, removing from consideration the deceptive women’s-rights rhetoric leftists employ to avoid the central issue: the life of the fetus, and whether it should be treated as a being worthy of protection or as the messy result of careless sexual activity.

The case is a rather easy one to make: Abortion is, at its core, a medical procedure that deliberately terminates one life in accordance to the whims of that life’s politically protected counterparts. It is, more generally, an attempt to claim that a particular life is only valuable inasmuch as is capriciously deemed by someone who has already been born – buttressed by assertions that harken back to slavery, that consider the fetus to be the chattel of its mother rather than a human life with specific legal and moral protections.

In other words, abortion is the willful and grotesque subversion of human life; it is dehumanization and inequality encapsulated; it is the medical equivalent of telling someone that their rights are subject to another, who, it so happens, might want to continue to have unprotected and inconsequential sex more often, the biological ramifications of intimacy aside. The only true difference abortion shares with cold-blooded murder is this phony – and altogether political – dispensation of the idea of choice, even though there is no actual choice involved in the process as a whole.

In the end, the only good news is that the industry will continue to die as long as activists successfully communicate a particularly crucial reality – that with abortion, there is only death, and the resultant sadness.

Youngsters at the Symphony: A Guide

CRDaily

A few pointers for those of you who might have the opportunity to attend your first symphonic concert this fall:

  • Assume a sincere and mature attitude: One of the most important things you can do as a young symphony attendee is to show the regulars that you are serious about the music you are there to hear. According to my experience, this seems to entail two major principles of the symphony: dressing nicely, and like an adult; and being respectful while the music is playing, refraining from childish fidgeting and any other blatant distractions that tend to be bothersome. Above all, remember that you’re attending an artistic event, not a college fraternity party.
  • Prepare for long pieces: Because of the mechanics of modern popular music, young people are often daunted by the sheer magnitude of many of the standard classical pieces in the repertoire, which, rather than being tailor-made for the radio, for the rushed and frantic party scene, are often ornate and complicated entities that have to be rolled out over a forty or fifty-minute timespan. As you listen to more and more classical music, the length becomes a normal and endearing feature of the pieces you love, but until then, it can difficult to handle. As such, you need to mentally prepare yourself to be patient and attentive while you are sitting in the concert hall: By getting plenty of sleep the night before the concert, ensuring that you are well-rested as the music plays, it will be much easier to appreciate the machinations and the subtleties of the pieces you hear.
  • Listen to a recording of each piece at least three times before you attend the actual concert: This may seem like an odd piece of advice (after all, with most popular music, the song tends to lose its freshness and excitement the more you listen to it), but it is my view that doing so will allow you to better understand the overall thematic framework of each piece, making it so that you may pay more attention to aesthetic and structural details than to larger, more general musical trends. I think that one of the main issues that young people have if and when they attend the symphony for the first time is that they get lost while listening to long pieces of music, the sort of which they’ve never heard before. But if you are somewhat familiar with how the main themes go – if you generally know what to expect from the music, and have already, perhaps, developed useful strategies for effective and enjoyable listening – then the whole process will be much more powerful. You might think that this strategy will ruin the spontaneity of the music, but on the contrary, the pieces you are going to hear are generally complex and generally able to provide you with something special each time you listen to them. Plus, you can’t compare listening to a recording of a piece and listening to a professional orchestra’s live performance: the latter is much more vivid and thrilling.
  • Attend the pre-concert lecture: It is likely that many of the symphonic concerts you attend will feature pre-concert lectures given either by the conductor, a soloist, or some other knowledgeable person associated with the orchestra. Typically, these lectures discuss the historical and biographical contexts of the music and its composer; without them, it is difficult to understand the music fully unless you are already well acquainted with music history and theory. As such, you should attend them – you will be surprised, I think, at the extent to which the information provided by the lecturer can enhance your listening experience.
  • Make it a full cultural experience: One of the things that makes the symphony so enjoyable is the whole experience it tends to represent – a night out on the town, relaxing with friends as you enjoy some fine music, getting dinner beforehand and coffee afterwards at the best locations in the city. Of course, the actual music makes the most difference, but there are several factors which affect your enjoyment of it that you should seek to control: whether or not you are rushed or calm, the acoustics of the venue you are visiting, the quality of the conductor and his or her orchestra, and the location of your seat in relation to the stage and the performers. All of these factors can act as either obstructions to or catalysts for a greater artistic experience; if you have the expendable cash, be willing to spend it on improving the quality of the night as a whole. Also – and this is an important point that many people miss nonetheless – realize that you are not going to like every piece, and that you are not behooved to give up classical music just because your first concert bores you to death. In many ways, the best tastes are acquired.
  • Don’t clap in-between movements: If you haven’t listened to much classical music before, be careful with your applause, as the last thing you want to do is ruin the serenity of a movement by clapping boisterously at an inopportune time. Most of the pieces to which you will listen have multiple movements; if the piece is a symphony or a concerto or a sonata, it will most likely have four movements (sometimes three, sometimes five). If you’re not sure, just follow the program and wait until the conductor drops his or her hands and the rest of the audience begins its applause. You’ll probably be surprised at how excited and loud the audiences tend to be at these concerts (it’s one of the biggest myths about the symphony – that attendees are overly tame in their appreciation of the music): Don’t refrain from being boisterous once the proper time for being so arrives.
  • Do a bit of research on instruments and musical forms if need be: This is a minor point, but you should probably be somewhat familiar with the general qualities of each type of instrument in the orchestra. You should also be somewhat familiar with the various forms composers use for their music – sonatas, symphonies, concertos, overtures, arias, etc. – so that you’ll be able to navigate the differences and similarities between the various pieces you hear. With a bit of knowledge, you will be in a better position to contextualize and appreciate the music being played.
  • Be ready for encores, and stay for them if they come: I’ve been to concerts with people who want to rush outside to beat the traffic right after the last piece finishes, which is understandable, but costly if there’s to be an encore. Encores are usually performed if there’s a soloist accompanying the orchestra, but orchestras do them by themselves sometimes (especially if they are visiting or touring orchestras), and the results can be very exciting. Encores are generally short – though there may be several of them – and the conductor and/or soloist will leave and return to the stage several times before he or she performs again. The trick is to just keep clapping.
  • Don’t be discouraged by the snobs: To end on an encouraging note, there will likely be snobs and charlatans – people who see the symphony as a social statement rather than a musical experience – who may look down on you because you are younger or less wealthy or less “cultured” than they. Though it is tempting to engage their silliness, you should simply ignore them – because they really don’t know much about music, anyway. Some older folks might be surprised or impressed that a young person is attending, and they might ask you prying questions or throw you condescending stares – seriously, it happens to me all the time – but in the end, it’s most important that you throw out all the trite stereotypes people have about the symphony in order to focus on what actually matters: the music.

Reuniting the Right

Conservative, CRDaily, Politics

In his new book, The Conservatarian Manifesto, Charles C. W. Cooke proffers a bright and eloquent vision for the future of the political Right – one that recognizes the mistakes of Bush-era centralization, but that maintains a fierce reliance upon the great tenets of traditional conservatism. Of course, the evolutionary process is not so simple, and if one wishes to follow Cooke’s advice for forging a renewed philosophical groundwork, one has to also reject the typical pundit’s lazy predictions regarding the Right’s great, unassailable divide. Accordingly, in its refreshing and lively way, The Conservatarian Manifesto considers a few powerful reasons for doing so: On the one hand, conservatives and libertarians must recognize the importance of their mutual respect for individual rights and limited government; on the other, they must defend the concept of federalism and convince the public that what California does is not necessarily so confining for Texas or North Carolina. At the end of the day, the Right ought to draw comfort from the fact that the political environment with which it is presented is, after the Obama years, ripe for change.

The book begins, though, by clearing up some of the stickier misconceptions about political ideology within the American system: While modern liberalism effectively boils down to an ardent belief in centralizing power and in government intervention, conservatism takes the classically liberal tradition and reinterprets it in a twenty-first-century context. Many observers consider this to mean that those on the Right want to keep all sorts of traditions, going as far back as you wish; but as Cooke points out, conservatives want to preserve the radical philosophy of the Founders – not tradition for its own sake, but rather the American tradition specifically because the Constitution does a wonderful job of codifying individual rights and preserving liberty.

Inasmuch as it dislikes the slowness of conservative change, however, libertarianism is different, thoroughly rejecting the Burkean, “socially conservative” element of the Right by opposing the Drug War and defending a more secular conception of marriage. According to Cooke, a conservatarian is someone whose opinions are torn between these two philosophies, not quite finding either one of them entirely convincing – whose motivation is “to render the American framework of government as free as possible and to decentralize power, returning the important rights to where they belong.” Cooke concludes, “This way can many of the cracks between the libertarians and the conservatives be mended.”

As such, the importance of federalism cannot be overstated, especially since it may be the key to bringing about a firmer cohesiveness between Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians. With regard to social issues, for example – a conflation that Cooke finds useless because it pretends as if the answers to abortion, gay marriage, and drugs are necessarily the same – federalism means that states can adopt policies that are particularized to the proclivities of their own people, without upsetting too much their friends in adjoining states. It may be true that a conservatarian is most likely to support gay marriage, and to oppose a Drug War that needlessly interferes with the private consumption of goods; but the key is to recognize that if the federal government got out of the way, the states could act as laboratories of democracy in which localism and bifurcation of power are respected. Under such a framework, social issues would not be so divisive, and conservatives and libertarians would be able to unite around a philosophy of returned power to the states. Although a good portion of The Conservatarian Manifesto is dedicated to Cooke’s own views regarding such issues as immigration, foreign policy, gay marriage, and the Drug War, its argument’s ultimate reliance is upon the beautiful notion of federalism.

But perhaps the most inspiring takeaway from Cooke’s writing is the way in which it expresses the utter commonality of the Right: It may be difficult to say for sure whether government should recognize gay marriage, but it is easy to see how conservatives and libertarians, alike, love the Constitution. Instead of harping pessimistically about the supposed “great divide,” the media would do well to understand that Rand Paul and Scott Walker both care deeply about individual rights and free markets. And as long as this remains true, the Left ought to be gravely worried, for its vision of equality of outcome will be the Right’s common enemy – its excessive focus on bureaucratic dominance will be the scourge around which, Cooke is confident, the Right will gladly take a stand.

Liberals in Indiana

Conservative, CRDaily, Politics

In the face of all this quackery regarding Indiana’s new and controversial RFRA – the one which takes further steps to protect religious freedoms – it is important to stay sane amongst all the leftist hysteria, to ignore the largely ignorant but nevertheless incessant whining emerging from hacks all over the web. In order to do so, however, one needs to understand the actual implications of the law, as divorced from what one might assume the law to entail.

First off, Indiana’s RFRA has been written, as I understand it, in the tradition of the federal RFRA that was signed into law by President Clinton, of all people. A slew of states already have similar laws with comparable aims – and have not received nearly as much backlash as has Indiana, because … well, you know … it wasn’t fashionable at the time to do so – showing in a definitive sense the extent to which the United States relies upon federalism. Many states may not feel that the federal provision goes far enough, or perhaps they think they need more idiosyncratic renderings of the principle in order to more fully protect their religious citizens; but whatever their reasons, the point is that as constitutionally guaranteed institutions of government, they have every right to take initiative in this area.

A second element to consider, of course, is the actual content of the law, which seems to me to have been simply enough explained by experts in the field so as to leave little room for confusion. In short, Indiana’s RFRA – according specifically to an article written for The Federalist by Gabriel Malor, an attorney in the DC area – was designed to provide courts with a framework through which they may better consider cases involving religious freedom. In the main, those who sue entities that make some claim of religious liberty for undertaking – or refusing to undertake – a particular action will have to convince judges and juries that the government has compelling reason to prevent the religious from citing their beliefs as safeguards. So, should a religious person claim that consuming a substance banned by Indiana state law is something necessarily commanded by his or her religion (to take an example from Malor’s piece), this law would force plaintiffs to provide a compelling reason to force that religious person from consuming the substance. If such an activity isn’t really affecting anyone else, then it is likely the courts will use the RFRA to protect the person’s religious liberty – not to ensure their performance of any discrimination prevented by the Civil Rights Act.

Of course, were the religious owners of a restaurant to try and refuse service to homosexuals (which they aren’t at all, in the first place), it would be very difficult for courts to use the RFRA to justify their claims – for not only are innocent third parties perniciously affected by an activity of that sort, but such would also set a dangerous precedent for the future of anti-discrimination law in the United States. But is that how the Left around the nation has consistently been interpreting the situation?

To be blunt and precise, no. Liberals have been acting as if the RFRA was drafted secretly in a church by fundamentalist law-makers who want to undermine civil-rights precedent. They know that it is not true, but it doesn’t really matter since the whole purpose of progressivism in the first place is to blankly oppose tradition in any area of life, no matter how respectable or frivolous. And so it is important to remember that which is becoming increasingly accurate when describing the Left: The true liberals in Indiana are not the ones who scream against First-Amendment protections, or who act as if any attempt to preserve America’s classically liberal traditions are necessarily discriminatory; the true liberals are those who understand the importance of allowing those with whom you disagree to carry on with their personal activity. For who wants to live in a country in which the feelings of some outweigh the Lockean natural rights of others?

Reflections on Leonard Bernstein

CRDaily

If you are lucky, you might get a composer with Leonard Bernstein’s popular appeal and intellectual aptitude every fifty years or so – a man with the musical skill of Herbert von Karajan, but not so much of the exclusivity and sourness that made Karajan distant and unlikeable. In fact, it is difficult to imagine how one person could contribute more to the consumption of music than did Bernstein: Aside, obviously, from his capacity as a composer, having written one of the great musicals of our time in West Side Story, Bernstein saw the importance of helping those who are otherwise non-musical to understand why it is that someone like Mozart is great, and why, exactly, Mozart’s music is foundational and intriguing. He knew, too, that the conducting profession entailed something far greater than merely touring around the world with an accomplished orchestra in order to offer respectable interpretations of the great pieces. Bernstein was great at doing just that, of course, and much more; but humans need, in some sense, to be taught, and if Bernstein excelled in anything, it was in teaching children and adults, college graduates and working men, alike, about what it means to truly appreciate music.

One of the keys to interpreting Bernstein’s career thus seems to involve the importance of music education – not just playing band in high school, or hearing a few minutes of Bach on the radio as you drive home from school, but actually studying the mechanics of music and appreciating its fruitful historical unveiling. Bernstein’s contributions to the field were invaluable, but the study of classical music remains stigmatized in twenty-first-century American culture precisely because it is seen as the stuff of snobs and cultural pedants. In light of Bernstein’s proper legacy as an educator, this development seems tragic, and I think he would be the first to point out the necessity of reaching the poor, the marginalized, and social outcasts of all sorts with the transforming power of music.

To focus on Bernstein the teacher, however, is not, by any means, to underestimate Bernstein’s eminence as a composer – nourished by his friendships with geniuses like Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky – evident in his musical variety and in his ability to capture in sound the mid-nineteenth-century American spirit. Though Bernstein spent much time with symphonic music in directing orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, two of his most famous works, Candide and West Side Story, were written for the stage – the latter of which brilliantly reinterprets Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet to an American audience, using jazzy sounds and dancing city slackers to tell the lovers’ story. Accordingly, it is no coincidence that we see the musical as quintessentially 1950s in its pertinent understanding of intercity ethnic conflict, but that we also acknowledge its continued relevance to the sorts of struggles characteristic of contemporary culture. As Bernstein once reflected, “I don’t get sick of [West Side Story] – that’s a sign of something fresh; I mean, it’s not fresh the way Mozart stays fresh time after time, but who’s in that class?”

Bernstein’s approach to music education can be adequately summed up by his ability to analyze with relatable language and accessible conceptual lenses the works of great composers – his knack for lecturing with passion, precision, and charisma. He never shied away from structural detail, but he also never allowed esoteric technicality to get too much in the way of his listeners’ apprehension: With regard to Beethoven’s central talents, for example, he remarks, “In Beethoven’s case, the form is all, because it is a case of what note succeeds every other note; and in Beethoven’s case it was always the right next note, as if he had his own private telephone wire to heaven …. Inevitability – that’s the word for it.” A renowned connoisseur of the inscrutable Mahler, Bernstein used the notion of inner conflict – indeed, relating it to his own life as a composer and a conductor – to explain the tensions and struggles inherent to Mahler’s glorious symphonies. And when it came to the eccentric Berlioz, he delighted in discussing the elusive, imperious idee fixe pervading the Symphonie Fantastique and lending to the psychedelic romanticism of an early-nineteenth-century work. Whenever he wanted to illustrate a point, of course, he only had to turn around and point his baton to his personal assembly of musical masters – the New York Philharmonic – to make it happen.

Bernstein even tackled such difficult subjects as the nature of American music and the many possibilities of melodic structuring in certain lectures he gave … to children! Called the Young People’s Concerts, these informative sessions brought together Bernstein’s youthfulness, his passion for people, and his musical sharpness in order to teach puerile minds all they needed to know about listening well during formal performances. In other words, he reached young people without having to use the typically frivolous shortcuts employed by disinterested adults in all venues of academic life; he taught them something they could hold on to, without pandering to them and without treating them as if they were the same age as their accompanying parents. And so it was that one of the great musical minds of the twentieth century focused on imparting his wisdom to new generations: As would any great teacher, he sought to cultivate passion for the musical traditions that Westerners continue to hold dear.

Regardless, perhaps Leonard Bernstein’s greatest legacy is not necessarily the individual impact he made in the worlds of composing, conducting, and teaching, serving as one of the definitive ambassadors of classical music to the general public in the twentieth century; perhaps his greatest legacy, rather, is the fact that when we hear the transcendental beauty and truth that good music has to offer – when we think of Beethoven’s humanness and sublimity, Mahler and his torturous complexity – we see, in part, that dignified, deep, emotional man with a cigarette in his mouth, sitting upright at a piano or on a raised platform, motivating us to understand the art with which we have been thoroughly blessed.

And for that alone, I think we are inexpressibly thankful. When Bernstein traveled to Berlin in 1989 following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the inspiring maestro decided to change the German word for joy, “Freude,” with the German word for freedom, “Freiheit,” in Beethoven’s epic final symphony. He did so because he knew as well as anyone the spiritual and even political intricacies of music’s significance to our souls: Even though he died shortly thereafter, his memory lives on just as music continues to bring beauty to the lives of the lost, changing the fortunes of kids who, instead of video-gaming or mulling about sketchy malls listlessly, are experiencing the intricate notes and delightful tones of their first melodies.

DHS Funding and Politics

Conservative, CRDaily, Politics

While I generally consider myself a proud Republican – and while I almost always defend both the tactics and policies of the Republicans Party whenever necessary – I very much dislike the idiotic political strategy congressional Republicans have been attempting to use with regard to funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the past few weeks. In short, House Republicans passed a bill that ties together a challenge to President Obama’s “executive amnesty” with money for the DHS, such that if a Democrat wishes to vote in favor of providing the necessary funding for that particular department, he or she must also make an indirect show of opposition toward the President’s immigration policy. The bill ended up passing the House easily, but was held up in the Senate due to Democrats’ obvious uneasiness with regard to its ridiculous stipulations. As an ultimate result, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has been forced to reject or separate the bill lest Republicans come across as if they are opposed to public, domestic safety. In other words, this was a losing proposition for Republicans, no matter how you look at it.

In my view, President Obama’s use of executive fiat to essentially change immigration law constitutes an egregious violation of the separation of powers, and I have made this clear on multiple occasions; however, I cannot support, nor understand, a political move which not only ends up making Republicans look stupid, but which also challenges the President’s policy in an entirely inappropriate manner.

It simply is not fair for either party to tie two disparate pieces of potential legislation – in this case, funding for DHS and a challenge of “executive amnesty” – into one bill, and then cry foul when the other party does not want to vote on it. Obviously, Republicans were trying to force Democrats into making a politically unsavory move, but the end result has been its backfiring on Republicans who look like political craftsmen instead of sincere legislators with honest and well-reasoned issues with overreach from the executive branch. Once more, Congressional Republicans show themselves to be political novices. Their messaging abilities are insufficient to clear the air once they so flippantly fail at passing a piece of legislation through a congress that they, ironically, control.

Thus, I can once again point to the inefficacies of politics, the processes of which are frustrating, arduous, and often perverse. Legislative and government gridlock, according to the original designation of the American system, are not horrific outcomes; rather, they serve to illustrate why bureaucracy must get out of our lives in as complete a manner as possible – because it is so inept in answering the issues we face as citizens that it manages to profoundly complicate, burden, and stifle the marketplaces, programs, and activities that we freely create. Stumbling back to their districts, breathless from all the lies and half-truths they’ve been propagating, slobbering over their own electoral futures, do legislators honestly expect that voters will end up allowing them to continue on with their fatuous regulations and their pernicious revocations of our fundamental rights?

Indeed, they do. They do so because the Left has made it politically expedient to scale back our private liberty and flexibility under the false guise of a deceptive egalitarian ideal. So while I may express utter frustration with the political ineptitude of the Republican Party, you better believe that I will continue to support it in fighting the illiberalism of the modern Left.