Movies for Grown-Ups: Room

People will tell you that this or that deplorable book or show or song requires depraved content in order to explore “mature” themes.

So here’s a tip: Watch the film Room.  (Wikipedia has the full plot synopsis here.)  It’s the story of a teenage girl whose kidnapper keeps her in a storage shed for years, and visits nightly to rape her.  We meet her as the twenty-something mother of a five-year-old son, still locked in that shed and now raising her child in captivity.  Movie topics don’t get a whole lot darker than that.

Do not watch this film when your little kids are home.  (Do watch it with your teenagers – parental guidance required).

But guess what?  In the hands of a good director, you can swim deep into some very nasty, brutal crimes without anything of the gratuitous voyeurism that so many lazy producers lather on like cupcake frosting.   You can have your (plot-essential) rape scene without actually having to watch someone get raped.  You can show terror, desperation, and suicidal depression without morbid violence. The very light touch on the use of foul language is a textbook case study in when and how such words might properly belong in a script.


In addition to being a study in How to Handle Extremely Dark Topics, the film is also, as any good film should be, about the true, beautiful and good.  If you are a writer, you should watch this film for its genius use of the breadth of the English language.  For any human, the very last lines of the film are stunning in their ability to sum up one of the greatest struggles of the human heart with piercing simplicity.

FYI – It was streaming for free on Amazon Prime when we watched it.

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Film poster via Wikimedia, used per fair use guidelines.

The One Good Thing Trump Did Sunday Night

Among evangelical Protestants and Catholics (and perhaps a few Orthodox), there’s a line of thinking about Donald Trump that goes about like this: He’s got his flaws.  None of us are perfect.  Anyhow, let’s leave the past in the past.  He’s a Christian now.

At the opening of the debate Sunday, Donald Trump was asked directly about the recordings (over a decade old) of him bragging about committing sexual assault.

Now here is what any good politician, honest or a liar, would say if they were courting the Christian right:

Oh, yes, that’s a very shameful part of my past.  I have repented of those sins, and I regret every day that I ever said or did such things.  By the grace of God I’m trying to become a new person.

I know many Christians who’ve sincerely expressed that sort of repentance; I’ve also seen bona fide psychopaths spout the lines.  Saying the words isn’t a measure of sincerity, but it is a measure of knowing the words.

Trump went nowhere near those lines.

What he did was justify his recorded words by sticking to his argument that it was just “locker room talk.”

It was a good service he did, because now we don’t have to wonder whether he was lying or not.  We can be confident that:

  1. He is not sorry for that behavior.
  2. He doesn’t really think there’s anything wrong with it.
  3. He doesn’t particularly care what you think.

His conscience is wickedly deformed, but logically consistent.

Two Related Topics:

Here’s an article on sex-trafficking in the Myrtle Beach area, with a few comments from an assistant US Attorney who works on prosecuting such cases.  I had not considered it until this very moment, but I am now asking myself: To what extent would a President Trump cooperate with such investigations if his own businesses were implicated?

We do know that Democrats have repeatedly made abortion a litmus test for which organizations can receive grants to help victims of human trafficking.  We can reasonably assume Clinton will continue with that approach.  On the other hand, at least in this part of the country, under the present administration federal prosecutors are plenty active in shutting down what they can of that business.

Lest you think I overreach, keep in mind that Trump’s lack-of-repentance concerns non-consensual sexual acts.  That’s what human trafficking is about. The difference is degree, not kind.


Second topic, here’s Julie Roys’ op-ed at the Christian Post “Evangelical Trump Defenders Are Destroying the Church’s Witness.”

But let’s face it. This election presents us with a Sophie’s Choice. There is no moral vote. Only when compared to Hillary Clinton can Donald Trump come even close to resembling a decent human being. But, let’s be honest, that’s like saying I’m better-looking than Quasimodo. However, if we choose not to vote, or vote for a third party, then we can legitimately be accused of helping Hillary win the presidency (unless you live in a blue state like me where a vote for the GOP candidate doesn’t count anyway).

So, let’s stop claiming a moral high ground in this election. There is none. These are the two most morally depraved, power-hungry, and unfit candidates ever to win the Democratic and Republican Party nominations. They are a reflection of the moral bankruptcy of our nation. And, rather than waiving a party flag, every honest person of faith should be mourning the truly pathetic state of our union.

She’s writing to her fellow Evangelical Protestants, but her comments apply to Christians of every stripe.


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Artwork courtesy of Tim Green from Bradford (facepalm) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Dysautonomia Awareness: You’re Not Insane, You Just Feel That Way

It’s Dysautonomia Awareness month, and I’m hereby aware.  Dr. Google can tell you all sorts of things, but my favorite link is to Living with Bob, FYI slight language warning (which I don’t approve of), but I like the assortment of information.  When you visit Dr. Google and the major advocacy organizations, what you mostly hear about is POTS, to the point that some outfits equate the two.  That’s sort of like equating “leg pain” with “broken femur.”

[FYI: You don’t want POTS.  Or a broken femur.]

Dysautonomia, aka Autonomic Dysfunction, is when your autonomic nervous system doesn’t work right.  That’s the part of your nervous system that does all the things you don’t have to think about and really don’t control.  Any underlying illness or injury that affects the nervous system can cause autonomic dysfunction (MS, diabetes, lupus, spinal cord injury, etc.), and there are an assortment of disorders that have autonomic dysfunction as their chief complaint.

Since blogging is all about self-absorption, let’s talk about me.

Complaints, Complaints, Complaints

The most dramatic and pressing element of my dysautonomia is Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia, which drama longtime readers know all about, check the archives.  What happens is that on exertion my heart rate accelerates excessively, which leads to dramatic shortness of breath and an inability to do, well, anything.  Conveniently I’m one of the people who responds very, very well to a low-dose beta blocker, so the symptoms are under control.

Curiously, this study from 1966 recreated exactly what my heart rate does.  The difference between the “control” and “parasympathetic blockade” heart rates is pretty much me before IST vs. with IST. “Double blockade” is what I look like with IST controlled by a beta-blocker.

In everyday terms: One day on vacation last spring I forgot to take the beta blocker.  After a leisurely breakfast, about noonish I started getting ready to go out and do something fun.  Brushing teeth? HR of 120.  In the shower? 140.  In contrast, on the beta blocker, 120 would be my heart rate having just jogged up two flights of stairs carrying a full bookbag.

On the vacation story, once I noticed I’d obviously forgotten something, I went and took the beta blocker and was fine to go out and be a normal active person traipsing around the city all afternoon.

One of the things that people will say about these kinds of idiopathic tachycardias is that they must be due to “deconditioning.”  When I first started with severe shortness of breath on exertion, I had just gotten home from a trip up north where I’d spent one morning climbing up and down a snowy hill sledding with the kids, no problems.  You don’t decondition that quickly.  Likewise, once I was diagnosed and treated, I went in the space of an hour (time it takes to make propranolol start working) from unable to walk an 1/8th of a mile slowly to doing laps at the school walking track as quickly and for as long as I liked.

I assure you that if you are so deconditioned that you can’t walk an 1/8th of a mile, the lowest available dose of a beta blocker will not instantly improve your conditioning by a factor of twenty. Dysautonomia is not deconditiong.

Stupid, Annoying, Incurable

Because the tachycardia responds so well to treatment, it’s not a significant problem as long as I’ve got access to the drugs.  I would say the most debilitating and limiting symptom I have is that I will, intermittently, get lightheaded when talking.

It’s a sensation a lot like hyperventilation, and the effect is similarly cumulative — you can handle some amount of it, but eventually you have to quit.  It’s a fairly common complaint among people who have POTS (which I don’t have, but which is a different tachycardia), and one that there is basically no discussion of in the literature that I can find.

I manage this symptom by daily reconsidering whether maybe I should have been a Carthusian.  Just kidding.  I’ve never even had chartreuse.

What really happens is that if I’m particularly feeling it, I just avoid talking to people.  This is a tad socially awkward.  Alternately, I talk to people and secretly resent them for being a person that I’m talking to (tad immature); or I feel guilty for making my brain hurt having so much fun (tad scrupulous), because it does take a toll on my ability to do other things as the day wears on.

Much like the way people who get migraines or stomach aches don’t necessarily have those symptoms 24/7, sometimes I’m just fine.  So that’s even more socially awkward, because one day I might be, say, subbing teaching a class with no difficulties, and another day I might want to hide from people because they persist with this crazy idea about talking to each other.

On a medium day I can get away with pacing myself.  I do better if I’m the one choosing how quickly I talk and if I’m alternating with someone else. So a phone call to my grandmother works great; group Rosary not so much. On a medium day I might sing most of the best two hymns at church, but with a certain amount of lip-syncing interspersed because the pace is still more than the brain can take.

Simple, Manageable Paths to Insanity

The reason I’m writing today, mid-awareness-month, is not just because I’m procrastinating on other work (true) but because I was made suddenly re-aware of one of last year’s most interesting developments.

What’s happened is that we are now, thank you Hurricane Matthew, having beautiful southern autumn weather.  Lows in the 50’s, highs in the 70’s, huge clear blue skys, low humidity, you can’t ask for anything more idyllic.  This morning I dropped off the 5th grader at school and then picked up a few groceries on the way home, perfectly comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.  Sitting in the shade in the early morning, you wanted a flannel shirt — remember it was in the 90’s a week ago, so we southerners get a flannel shirt pass, thanks.

But let me emphasize: This weather is PERFECTLY COMFORTABLE.  Important to the story.

So anyway, later in the day I laid down for a quick nap (because: procrastination makes me sleepy, ha).  The bedroom was a comfortable 70 degrees.  I’m wearing jeans, socks, long sleeve t-shirt, flannel shirt.  All clothing is that perfect fit for temperature regulation, not-to-tight-not-too-loose.  No gaps at the waist or ankles or anything.  On top of this, because we humans cool down when we sleep, I pull on blankets.

Not just any blankets: A down comforter, and on top of that a synthetic comforter.  You are now thinking to yourself this girl’s going to wake up a sweaty mess in half an hour.

Nope.  It’s fall!  We’re down to a brisk SEVENTY DEGREES!  So it’s time to resume . . . the thing where we wake up shivering immediately upon falling asleep.

No, Really, I Can Do Winter

I spent many decades camping in the winter.  When the huge ice storm hit twelve years ago, and we had no power for a week and the house was 45 degrees inside?  No problem.  I won’t say I enjoyed it, but we all slept great.  I know how to sleep in cold weather.

What’s happening with the dysautonomia is that my body temperature drops too quickly when I fall asleep.  In the summer, it’s not a problem — hence the fact that I had two comforters on the bed even though it was in the 90’s last week.  Humans intuitively grab the amount of bedding they need, that’s a basic survival instinct.

I don’t have persistent hypothermia (which happens to some people).  My body will eventually warm up the clothing and bedding and I’ll be just fine all night.  But because of the steep temperature drop on falling asleep, I’ll go through three or four attempts at sleeping before I can stay asleep.

This will make you feel like an insane person.

You will remember that sometimes when it’s very cold, people will wake up in the middle of the night looking for more blankets.  And then you will have to remind yourself: Those people aren’t going from perfectly-comfortable to body-shaking-shivering in the minute it takes to drift off to sleep.  Under a lot of blankets.  When it is seventy degrees in the room.

The Insanity of Dysautonomia

The maddening part of autonomic dysfunction is that every thing that happens is something that your body might also do under normal circumstances.  People get hot or cold.  Heart rates go up or down.  Something like getting dizzy talking or singing?  Hyperventilation happens.  You have to remind yourself that gosh, no one else in church is begging the organist to slow down so we don’t all pass out.  Every. Single. Hymn. in the hymnal isn’t some manic composer’s effort to see how many people have the breath to pull it off.

It’s not normal for an ordinary Sunday service to feel like some kind of survival-themed reality show.  Last Congregant Standing — Do You Have What It Takes To Sing All Four Verses?!!

But humans adapt marvelously, and this only makes you feel crazier.  You get used to the idea of needing an external heat source* in order to not be shivering on a seventy degree day.  You get used to the idea of assessing how much conversation your brain can take before you really have to stop.  You lose track of the fact that other people aren’t constantly managing all this weird stuff.

There’s more to complain about, but I’ll stop there.  To summarize: Dysautonomia is a condition whereby your autonomic nervous system has gone off its rocker and is trying to take you with it.  The end.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]


*For an external heat source, think electric blanket or heated mattress pad.  Basically it converts your autumnal weather back into summer in the area adjacent to your body.  If you also happen to need an extra two hours of sleep in the winter months because of the energy it takes to keep your body warm, if you religiously use such a heat source whenever you are sitting or lying still, it can buy you a couple more hours of wakefulness.

Related: Inside Tired World

50 Shades of Donald Trump

Among conservative Catholic Republicans on Facebook, there’s a meme being passed around that keeps ending up in front of people like myself and Scott Eric Alt, though neither of us can possibly be the intended target.  The argument is that the popularity of novels such as 50 Shades of Grey proves that women don’t, in fact, object to Donald Trump’s lewd behavior; any objections are political calculus.

Rebecca Bratten Weiss responds to another variation — same argument, different famous incident:

“But Bill Clinton…”

Oh yes. And I opposed him, and criticized him, at the time. Anyone else who did so must, in order to be morally consistent, do likewise with Trump. If you don’t, it just sends a message that you never really cared about sexual abuse of women, but were just appropriating morality in order to make your opposing team look bad.

Before my next sentence, let me reiterate: I do not think you should vote for Donald Trump.

Next sentence: There is some validity to the observation that Donald Trump’s lewd behavior is indeed representative of the American public at large.  I said so here.  This is a representative democracy, and our two candidates do in fact represent America.

Dear friends, if Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump represents you?  You can change that.

You can’t change the candidates, but you can change yourself.  You don’t have to be a person who winks at sin.  You don’t have to be a person who creates convoluted defenses of BDSM. You don’t have to be that person who justifies exposing kids to porn.

You can stop that now.  You do not have to be enslaved to the person you were yesterday.


Pro-life friends, another minute of politics: When people give sorry mealy-mouthed justifications for voting for a pro-abortion candidate by explaining that solving poverty or immigration or global warming will somehow fix abortion, those people are dangerously deluding themselves.  There exists a hierarchy of priorities, and cold-blooded murder is a far graver and more pressing issue than good roads or good tax policy.  When someone says I don’t like abortion but I’m voting for the person who advocates tirelessly for abortion, what I hear is: Actually, I’m fine with abortion.

I understand, therefore, the Republican Impulse.

I have grave reservations about Donald Trump’s sincerity on pro-life issues, however, because his life is one long series of promotions of the actual, real-live causes of abortion.

Food stamps don’t cause abortion.  Adultery? That causes abortion.


Quick aside on modesty.

When people like me talk about “modesty” we tend to hit a few topics related to girls’ clothing.  That matters, of course.  But for those who are trying to get their heads around about what immodesty looks like in someone who is neither female nor scantily-clad, Donald Trump is the poster boy.   He models immodesty not just with regards to sexuality, but also with regards to wealth, power, and personal accomplishments.  

It is easy to excuse his unseemly boastfulness by saying that he needs to prove his leadership potential or share his legitimate accomplishments with voters.  Not so.  It is possible to communicate one’s ability to lead without behaving immodestly.

Below in the links I include some examples of SC’s governor Nikki Haley in action, for other reasons.  But in her hurricane Matthew press conferences, she’s a vivid example of the counterpoint: A leader who is both a strong, decisive, competent leader, but who also conducts herself with modesty.


Link Round-up.  Here are all kinds of loosely related links.  At the bottom are a few of mine, but first here’s the pile I extracted from my reading list.

Timothy Scott Reeves, an evangelical Anglican philosopher with strong ortho-catholic leanings writes on our tendency to rely on chariots and horses instead of trusting in the Lord.

Simcha Fisher has an excellent piece on why consent alone is not sufficient.

Nathaniel Peters at Public Discourse writes:

Many young conservatives have been disheartened to see the leaders of their movement endorse Donald Trump. I am one of the disheartened ones. Let me explain what these leaders taught me and why their endorsement of Trump betrays those principles.

Faithfully Catholic, orthodox, conservative Katie O’Keefe catalogs her series of encounters with so called “locker-room talk” sexual abuse, and how she learned from an early age that protesting was futile:

5 years old – In my own backyard. I was stopped by a man in a car in the alley behind my house who showed me “what (he had) in his pants” and then offered me the opportunity to put my mouth on it. I declined but never told anyone because I had no idea that it was anything but just gross. . . .

12 years old – On my paper route, I was collecting for the monthly bill. An old man who had been very kindly toward me and had several grandchildren that he looked after, grabbed my breasts (which were more impressive than they were when I was 8) and humped me. He told me I was a good girl and he’d take good care of me. I quit carrying papers that month. I never told anyone because I figured that no one would believe me. . . .

Father Longenecker has sensible, hard-nosed advice on what to do after the elections, which promise us four years of disaster no matter what.

And here is a short, heartening story on seminarians already following that advice.

Erin Arlinghaus writes about:

Mary Pezzulo writes about the bad news for feminism that will come with the election of our first female president.

To which end, here’s a refreshing antidote: Watch a conservative, pro-life female governor in action, successfully managing a natural disaster. I don’t know how long the SCETV archives will be up, so here’s a link to the governor’s YouTube channel where you can find most of the videos.

(Tip: If you skim ahead to the Q&A’s with the whole executive branch team, a few of the press conferences contain striking examples of the linguistic diversity among educated, standard-English speaking southerners.  And that’s just a beginning.  Armchair linguists, this place is a treasure trove.)

Here’s Meg Hunter-Kilmer saying what many of us are saying:

A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.

To round out the reading, from a man who’s no slouch on Catholic faithfulness, Archbishop Chaput shares his thoughts on faithful citizenship:

But 2016 is a year in which two prominent Catholics – a sitting vice president, and the next vice presidential nominee of his party — both seem to publicly ignore or invent the content of their Catholic faith as they go along.  And meanwhile, both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.

This is depressing and liberating at the same time.  Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become.  Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.  I’ve been a registered independent for a long time and never more happily so than in this election season.  Both major candidates are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other.

And finally, a few links from my own archives:

Adultery is Not the Only Option: Five Things You Can Do to Keep Your Vows Intact

Here’s a patron saint for those who’ve fallen for the idea that Catholics need to be all sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

And to close, here’s my report from the field on how our Trump-Clinton society plays out among middle schoolers. In Sexual Bravado vs. Sexual Maturity, I share some of the real-world evidence parents like to ignore, then discuss the underlying issue:

In our popular culture, sex-status is the big thing.  The kids have learned from their parents that the purpose of sex is to gratify one’s desires, and that a girl’s worth is measured in sexiness.  The kids have adopted that philosophy wholesale. . . .

. . . Why is there such a market for teenage girls in a sleepy Bible Belt town, to the point that pimps are willing to risk kidnapping charges and worse in order to abduct upper class girls and sell them locally?

You can almost hear the eighth grade boys scoffing at those pathetic men who have to pay for what they can get the girls to give them for free.

There is no magic remedy that will guarantee your teens will live chastely and stay out of harm’s way. But you can be certain that if your understanding of human sexuality is all about the quest for gratification and sexual status, your children are going to learn that from you.


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Photo Collage by DonkeyHotey (New York Primary 2016) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Presidential Candidates, Internet Life, and the Company You Keep

The latest on Donald Trump’s lewd exploits have unleashed a flurry of “all guys talk that way” defenses from desperate supporters.  When it was Bill Clinton extorting sexual favors from interns, we heard roughly the same thing.

All men are not like this.

While every one of us sins, there are differences in behavior among persons.  That’s why some people can be trusted to watch your children, or your money, or your new car, and other people cannot be.

As voters, it is our job to be discerning.  The right sinner for the job is the order of the day, as I discussed on a different but related question of fallen men and women in positions of authority.

Here is a related fact: Not everyone on the internet is a pompous boor.  I have a fairly active presence on Facebook, and my friends list runs the gamut politically, religiously, and socially.  I have friends who, in this election, are posting strong political opinions that also happen to be terribly, terribly wrong.  (They feel the same way about me.)

I have friends on the internet who promote the products they sell to make cash on the side.  I have friends on the internet who post endless pictures of their crafts or their kids or their favorite inspiring-quote-du-jour.

None of these people are narcissists.  None of them are bent on stirring up drama.  All those horrible things you hear about, and perhaps experience, in social media relationships?  Not happening among my friends.

Another related fact: This doesn’t happen among my real-life friends either.

It isn’t because I live in some special protected bubble.  It isn’t because fairies and unicorns circle around me every day, keeping out the criminals and crazy people.  Real world nasty situations find me just the same as they find anyone else.

And yet I and other men and women I know manage, all the same, to avoid surrounding ourselves with toxic, dangerous people as a matter of course.

What’s the secret?

Refuse to cooperate.

That means you can’t be so concerned about your career that you’ll tolerate the lewdness of a Bill Clinton or a Donald Trump because you desperately hunger for the glamour or the promotion that comes with it.  When someone behaves badly towards you, that’s on them.  Your virtue will not deter someone determined to violate you.  But when you realize someone is a dangerous person, you can make choices about how to respond.

You can choose to resist and to avoid.  You can choose to cultivate an awareness of warning signs so that you are less likely (not guaranteed — just less likely) to be preyed upon in the future.

You can choose not to be friends on social media with that toxic drama queen.  When some guy thinks he’s got a right to grab your genitals?  You can show him what knees are for, thanks.

Yes, I said that.

I didn’t just say it, I’ve done it.  I don’t tell a lot of personal stories, but here’s one: I was staying with another family as a teenager, and the teenage son, same age as me, got the idea that he should to come to my bedroom and inform me he’d arrived for intercourse.  The tone was a little difficult to read — was he joking? He claimed afterwards he was.   But the words were not difficult to understand at all, rather unequivocal, so I kneed him in the groin.

(The fact that he was close enough to be on the receiving end of that response tells you a little more.  I didn’t have to disturb myself and cross the room to carry out the counter-offensive.)

He proceeded to get upset at me for doing that, and to inform me that I needed to be more careful, as such behavior on my part could cause serious injury.

Well, darling, that behavior on your part is what got you injured.

Another word was never said.  I’m sure I immediately garnered the reputation among our mutual friends as the resident prude.  I also never had another untoward advance during the time I was staying with that family.  Guess what?  My reputation was deserved and earned.  Call it prudery or call it clear communication, do not present yourself in my bedroom even jokingly soliciting sexual favors.

Nothing I did brought on that advance.

Whatever caused that young man to think he could get away with that behavior, it wasn’t me.  Not every intern who’s been groped by a Clinton or Trump was “asking for it.”  People who want to get away with deviant behavior aren’t sitting around wringing their hands waiting for an invitation.  You cannot control the fact that there are people like Trump out there in this world.

You can control whether you tolerate their behavior.

Your options may vary, but you can choose to use the ones you have.

There’s not always a quick, easy way to stop an aggressor.

You have to assess the situation and do the best you can.

But among your limited options, choose to resist in whatever way you can.

Don’t settle for excuses.

People who make themselves lists of the reasons they need to tolerate bad behavior are people who invite continued bad behavior.  Don’t act so shocked you’re surrounded by evil when you keep choosing to surround yourself with evil.

You do not have to cooperate with the people who want you to put a crude, immoral, inept candidate into office.

If your state’s ballot includes third party candidates, vote third party.  If there is no moral choice on the ballot, write-in a moral choice.

As a last resort, if your state offers neither of those options, protest by going to the polls and participating in all the elections that have moral options, and abstaining only from those races where there is no moral choice.  Follow-up by publicly voicing your opposition to the slate of candidates and pointing to the better options.

There Exist Decent People in the World

There are men who treat women decently.  There are women who stand up for the lives and rights of all women, even the very young ones. There are politicians who follow the law in all matters, and do their best to act in the interest of the public good.  There are principled men and women who would go into politics, or go farther into politics, if they knew they were wanted.

There are even unprincipled people who would back any likely winner, and so if they knew that what it took to win the power game was an honest candidate, they’d back an honest candidate.

Stop shutting up and putting up.  This year and every year, refuse to be screwed.


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Image courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].


Top 5 Predicted Evacuation Warnings at Governor Haley’s Next Press Conference

At this morning’s press conference, Governor Haley had to start getting stern with Charlestonians, who are being a mite sluggish about evacuating.  In light of the category 4 hurricane predicted to hit the coast Saturday morning, staffers are preparing a set of stronger warnings for the governor’s next press briefing.

5. “It’s not just gas stations and pharmacies that are closing.  Waffle House is closing.  And Bojangles.  This is serious, y’all.”

4. “Tennessee is filling up, and then you’re gonna have to drive to Kentucky to find a room.  Is that what you want?  I didn’t think so.”

3. “Don’t make me come down there and show you pictures of Hugo.”

2. “Greenville County school buses are now leaving the Charleston Coliseum, and they will be honking outside your house, whether you got your lunch packed or not.”

1. “Okay, that’s it.  Every road east of I-95 is now officially a westbound one-way street.”

Officials denied rumors that the delay in announcing the fate of Saturday’s Carolina-Georgia game is a ploy to improve evacuation rates, but conceded, “if only it were the Clemson-Carolina game, we’d just paint tiger paws on I-26 and be done with it.”


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Photo: South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley (Flickr) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Free & Fascinating: Watch the SC Evacuations Stream Live

A little living history: You can see the I-26 lane reversal in action by going to and selecting the traffic camera you’d like to view. Each camera icon will pull up a list of nearby camera locations.  Click on the location you’d like to see, then hit the “play” and “fullscreen” icons.

I’ve noticed some of the locations are a little glitchy — I assume everyone and their brother wants to see I-26 westbound at I-526 (except, of course, the people who have to be driving there), so that one’s not functioning at this writing. But there are other locations of interest.

Admit it: It’s pretty crazy seeing the westbound traffic on the eastbound side of the interstate.  Quit acting all nonchalant.  Just because we make it look easy doesn’t mean it isn’t epic.

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SC State Flag courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Related . . . My comments at the blorg on why SC takes a holiday anytime the weather gets mildly interesting.  If you fail to click through, here’s the essential part:

. . . remember kids: The South is terrible and backwards.  Stay away.  You’ll hate it here.

I’m thinking we should start a partnership with Rust Belt cities to encourage northward migration.  Detroit: Everything the say about the South, only more of it! And snow every year!


Physician Assisted PTSD – When Bad Medicine is Disguised in a Mental Health Diagnosis

Rebecca Frech wrote last year about her doctor-induced case of PTSD:

And in that moment, I can tell by her face that no one has updated the chart. It still says Conversion on the line for diagnosis. Nobody has put in the test results and new diagnosis from last October. I can see it as plainly as I can see that her eyes are brown. We’re still suspect, and this still isn’t over.

This week she updated with the news of the definitive diagnosis for the medical reasons behind her daughter’s paralysis.  It would be easy to think that Ella Frech’s case is an anomaly.  We might think that it’s unusual for a serious medical condition to be dismissed as a pscyhological disorder.

It isn’t.  It is woefully common, and there’s a reason for it.

The Diagnosis that Doesn’t Discriminate

It isn’t only Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy that gets the nutcase treatment.

Stephen Gaudet writes here about being accused of faking his severe asthma:

Feeling proud about what I had accomplished through daily exercise, I shared my marathon story with one of the intern doctors who was assigned to me. Rather than congratulating me, he basically accused me of faking my asthma. His words were ” There’s no way you could’ve walked a marathon if you have severe asthma.” I found out later that in my chart he actually wrote, “patient presents with factitious asthma, claims he walked a marathon“. That probably explains why some of the nurses were treating me so strange during the hospitalization. A rumor had spread that my asthma was very mild and probably psychosomatic in nature. I remember some of the medical staff trying to convince me that my breathing difficulties were all in my head and that I had some kind of generalized anxiety disorder. Are you freaking kidding me! And even scarier, this happened at a well respected teaching hospital.

That incident caused me a lot of grief and took over 3 years with lots of letter writing by my pulmonologists to have that false information removed from my medical record. The reality is that these are the kinds of screwy preconceived generalizations that people have about the way sick people should look and behave. And if I want to be completely honest here, there have been times when I’ve guilty of the same.

For background: Gaudet is a respiratory therapist who is treated by one of the top pulmonologists in the nation.

Here’s Dr. Michelle Roger, a neuropsychologist, writing about the mental health misdiagnoses of patients with dysautonomia:

Just about every Dysautonomia patient with whom I’ve spoken over the last few years has, at one time or another, been told that the symptoms they were experiencing were all in their head. Diagnoses such as Anxiety disorders, Depression, Conversion or Somatoform disorders, and even Bipolar disorder are haphazardly applied to patients when no clear aetiology can be discovered to explain their symptoms. Normal reactions to abnormal situations, and purely medical/physiological symptoms are over-pathologised or misdiagnosed with alarming regularity, and to the detriment of the patient.

When unfounded these diagnoses leave a mark on the patient, a wound which if left untended will follow and influence all future relationships with the medical professionals. It also leaves a glaring mark on medical records that will be incorporated into future investigations and the overall diagnostic process. Even when unsubstantiated or proven to be untrue following psychological assessment, it can prove extremely difficult to remove such diagnoses from a patient’s medical file.

Here’s a summary of Dr. Alex Flore’s presentation on the problem of mitochondrial disease being misdiagnosed as Munchausen syndrome by proxy:

It is possible that what may be interpreted as “red flags” of Munchausen’s may alternatively  be attributed to the demands and anxiety related to care of a very sick child.  For example, anxious parents may not give a good history, or may “doctor shop” because they are unsatisfied and may be unhappy with the care their child is getting, especially when they feel that no one can actually diagnose, treat or understand the problem.  Certain conditions, especially mitochondrial disease, will present with intermittent symptoms, and it will take a skilled and patient clinician to arrive at the right diagnosis – one that is an illness not Munchausen’s by proxy.

Psychologists have described that the population of patients and parents of children with Mitochondrial Disease are much more vulnerable to a false Munchausen’s by proxy accusation simply due to the nature of the disease.  In fact, a hallmark characteristic of mitochondrial disease is the presentation of several unrelated symptoms that together, “don’t make sense”.  Clinicians who feel that a parent is intentionally making symptoms appear, is behaving to insure that the illness continues, and consults multiple physicians may suspect Munchausen’s – but should still “trust, then verify.” In other words, believe the parents, run appropriate diagnostic tests, seek the input of every part of the child’s team, and take very seriously the responsibility to the child to act as an advocate and do no harm.

Non-psychiatric misdiagnoses happen, too, of course.  It is frustrating when a physician (or team of physcians) flubs a diagnosis through honest error — we humans aren’t ominiscient, so it’s bound to happen.  It’s galling when the misdiagnosis involves dismissing serious serious symptoms as some much more benign illness that doesn’t fit with the case history.  But pushing off a poorly-substantiated mental health label on a patient with an atypical presentation is both physically and emotionally harmful to the patient.

Unfortunately, this dangerous habit is actually enshrined in medical practice.

I Guess You’re Just Nuts, Then?

Many misdiagnoses are just idiocy.  Some popular lazy-diagnoses include fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety disorders.  All of these disorders have specific criteria you can use to evaluate yourself (or your patient) and see if they apply.  It’s almost helpful when a physician throws out with confidence, “I think it’s probably just ________” and inserts some illness utterly outside his or her specialty, and which a quick Google search would immediately rule out. Then you know you have a stupid doctor, done.  It’s wearying, and can put you off the medical profession for a while, but it’s possible to come to a definitive conclusion one way or another.

There’s at least one mental health diagnosis, however, that can’t be ruled out by logic and good medicine.

Conversion Disorder, which is what Ella Frech was persistently misdiagnosed with (despite presenting with symptoms of a known side effect of one of the medications she was taking), is where modern medical practice bares its hubris.

Here’s the Mayo Clinic describing how Conversion Disorder is diagnosed:

There are no standard tests to check for conversion disorder. The tests will depend on what kind of signs and symptoms you have — the main purpose is to rule out any medical or neurological disease.

In other words, and you can read the whole page and see for yourself, if you’re definitely sick but no one can figure out why, then conversion disorder.

That’s it.

Dr. Allen Frances writes at Psychology Today about the failed effort to get the DSM to attempt even a modest stab at valid diagnostic criteria above and beyond heck if we know:

Many of you would argue that I didn’t go nearly far enough- that there should be no ‘Somatic Symptom Disorder’ at all in DSM 5 because there is no substantial body of evidence to support either its reliability or its validity.

. . . I am sympathetic to this view, but realized that it would have no traction with the work group and chose instead to lobby for what seemed to be clearly essential and relatively easy changes that would solve most, if not all, of the problem.

. . . My letter cautioned DSM 5 that it was invading dangerous territory. Here was my warning to the DSM 5 work group:

• ‘Clearly you have paid close attention only to the need to reduce false negatives, but have not protected sufficiently against the serious problem of creating false positives. You are not alone in this blind spot—in my experience, inattention to false positive risk is an endemic problem for all experts in any field. But your prior oversight needs urgent correction before you go to press with a criteria set that is so unbalanced that it will cause grave harms.’

• ‘When psychiatric problems are misdiagnosed in the medically ill, the patients are stigmatized as ‘crocks’ and the possible underlying medical causes of their problems are much more likely to be missed.’

• ‘Continuing with your current loose wording will be bad for the patients who are mislabeled and will also be extremely harmful to DSM 5, to APA, and to your own professional reputations.’

I also raised the point that this could lead to a boycott of DSM 5. Pretty strong stuff, I thought. But totally ineffective.

Somatic Symptom Disorder (which is the umbrella term in the current terminology under which Conversion Disorder falls) is thus a particularly hazardous diagnosis because it has no symptoms of its own.

It is literally a disorder whose defining symptom is, “We the physicians don’t know what you have.  Therefore, it must be psychological.”  This is an awkward assertion for a profession that has evolved more in the past century than any other field of human endeavor.  The developments in medical research just in the past twenty years are astonishing and marvelous.  My children’s high school biology textbooks are utterly different than mine, because the depth and scope of our knowledge about human cells and the chemistry of the human body is orders of magnitude past what we knew a generation ago.

It seems, therefore, ludicrous that any sane person could hold that our knowledge of medicine is now perfectly complete.  But this is the implicit assertion of somatic symptom disorders.


I sometimes joke that idiopathic means that you and your doctor both agree the other person is an idiot.  But really it just means we don’t know.  That happens.  Humans aren’t all-knowing.   What is the sane response to ignorance?  It isn’t to fabricate some fanciful explanation to cover over your lapse.  The sane response is to humbly admit, “I’m sorry I don’t know.”  And, where the stakes are high, the sane person adds, “And we should keep investigating until we get a solid answer.”

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Illustration contains a bit of humor in the fine print, [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Animal-Human Embryo Ethics Simplified

A hot newish thing in scientific research is combining human and animal genetic material in order to do something-or-another.  Here’s a quick rundown of the moral issues involved, including “What if there were Cat-People?”

Principle #1: If it directly kills an innocent person, don’t do it.  Some of the procedures under scrutiny involve removing genetic material from human embryos (for whatever purpose, noble or otherwise), and thus killing the embryo in the process.  A human embryo is a human being.  A very tiny, very young, very immature human being, but a distinct human person all the same.  Just because your friends can’t drive or hold down steady jobs doesn’t mean they’re disposable.

Don’t kill the innocent humans.  That’s a hard-and-fast rule.  Therefore, any procedure that requires the direct killing of any innocent person is a no-go. Always and everywhere.

Principle #2: Human beings have eternal souls. Now let us imagine you acquired your human genetic material through some moral means.  A question that then arises is: Does our use of that human body-part cause a new human being to enter into existence?

We have situations in which no such thing happens.  You can donate your kidney and liver and heart and all kinds of stuff to some other person, and the recipient remains one person, the same person as before, and you remain the other. (You might be dead, but you’re still you.)  No new human is created via organ donation.  We can conceive of situations in which the use of human genetic material works in a similar way — the donated body part does what it does, but it doesn’t cause a new human person to come into existence.   In such a case, as long as other criteria for moral action are met, there’s not a problem.

We have, likewise, situations in which the pro-creation of a new human person does or could happen.  It is not necessary for us to analyze the state of science at this very moment.  All we need to know is that if a new human being is made via cloning, genetic donation, or what have you, we’ve violated a moral law.  It is immoral to procreate outside the bonds of marriage.  But, like all the other immoral ways people procreate, we also know that every human person is endowed with inherent dignity that comes from being an eternal soul created in the image and likeness of God — regardless of the circumstances of conception.

Therefore, though it is patently wrong to create new humans via cloning, IVF, rape, adultery, and whatever else science might devise other than the marital act, the new humans so-created still must be treated with all the same rights and privileges the rest of humanity is owed.

Principle #3: When in doubt, err on the side of protecting the sanctity of human life.  People are stupid, though, and sometimes evil. We can envision, therefore, some dreadful situation in which scientists create part-animal-part-human hybrids.  Is this new creature a human being?

Well, that would be hard to know, wouldn’t it?

We could be quite certain that if, say, you donated a human lung to a pig, the pig is still a pig.  We know that because that’s how it works when you donate a human lung to a human.  The recipient remains what and who the recipient always was.  There are moral problems with donating human tissue to animals, for example: Why was a perfectly good human lung wasted on a pig?  Those issues must be dealt with, but they are different from the question of whether the pig just became a human person. The pig is still a pig.  Not one you want to barbecue, though.  Ick.

In contrast, let’s say we created an embryo in-vitro (don’t do that, it’s wrong), but rather than using 100% human genetic material, we used some portion of non-human tissue as well.  The resulting being might be obviously “human” or might not be.  But here’s the rub: You could not count on appearances alone to know whether you had a human person.  Does it look mostly like a human, but really it’s a dog-soul animating a modified dog-body, more like the animal recipient of human organs?  Or, in contrast, does it look mostly like a dog, and lack many of the characteristics we take for granted as being “human” but in fact it’s a human soul animating a damaged human body?

It is quite probable that we might find ourselves in the situation of having to say: Who knows?

And in that situation, the moral response is to assume it’s a human person until proven otherwise.

Conclusion: Baptize the Cat People.

Should you create human-animal hybrid creatures? No!  You shouldn’t be procreating humans in the laboratory at all, unless it’s you and your spouse up late going at it the old fashioned way.  But in the event that hybrid-creatures are produced, we would be obliged to treat them as if they were human, no matter how miserably inconvenient that turned out to be.



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Artwork: The Ball of Yarn (1854) by Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Best Practices: Getting Parents Involved in Kids’ Religious Formation

Last week was our parish’s first week of religious ed, and my 7th grade daughter came home with an example of ordinary catechists in a traditional classroom program doing a great job at supporting parental involvement in their children’s faith.

There were three parts of the memo-from-the-teachers that made me swoon with gratitude.

1. Invitations (lots of them) for parents to come join the class anytime.  

I’ve known our DRE for many years and she’s always had a very warm and open attitude towards parents’ involvement in their children’s formation.  But to have the teachers repeatedly invite parents to come sit in class any time at all communicated an important message: They want us!  They’re happy to have us.  They’re happy for us to see what the kids are learning and take an active part in weekly faith formation.

Inviting parents to class does change the dynamic.  It takes confidence and good teaching skills to be comfortable working with an audience.  (And the reality is that watching people teach religious ed isn’t always the most exciting way to spend an hour.  It can be, but sometimes you’re maxed out on sacrament charts and so forth.)  But I love that my daughter’s teachers want me to know I’m not getting in the way.  Me showing up and being involved is a good thing, not a hindrance.

That’s a rightly ordered relationship (even if I never take them up on the invitation), and I think their understanding of that relationship is why they did such a stellar job on the other two very simple helps they added to the class.


2. Weekly bring-back-to-class assignment: Noticing God’s action in our lives.

I’m sure the day is coming when we all bring in mini-tubes of toothpaste for the homeless, or spare change for missions, or whatever other project it is the kids are undertaking this year.  Corporal works of mercy are good.  But those works have to spring from a lived relationship with God, or the Catholic faith becomes just another option for Ways to Be Kind to People.

So every week, the teachers are asking the kids to report back one instance when they became aware of the presence of God in their lives — whether in prayer, in the created world, in the action of others, whatever it be.

Does this sound too Spirituality Lite?  Let me offer firm correction:  This is an age-appropriate way for kids to start crossing the bridge from an inherited faith to personal ownership of their faith.  It is an age-appropriate way for the kids to become comfortable with talking about their relationship with God.  It is an essential exercise, because awareness of God’s action in our lives is the foundation of the spiritual life.

Not Lite at all — it’s rock solid stone.  The beautiful twist on this assignment is that by getting the parents involved, my daughter’s teachers are handing us, like a weekly subscription to the spiritual goldmine, an easy way for we parents to get comfortable with talking about discipleship with our kids.  If you actually take the teachers up on this opportunity for the next twenty weeks, they’ll have helped you the parent build a habit of discussing the faith in a profound, personal, and non-adversarial way with your teenager.

This is the catechetical mission lived large: Genuinely assisting parents in their role as the primary teachers of the faith.

3. Weekly do-at-home assignment: A question for parents.  

But that’s not all!  Our catechists are taking it one deeper by sending home a second discussion question as well, which will change every week.  Week One’s question was about promises: What promise have you made recently, and what was the outcome? What was something someone promised to you, and what was the outcome?

I liked this question a ton because it fits totally with the topics that came up in class (vocations and sacraments), it fits with questions about the moral life, and it’s not a “religious” topic even though it’s a religious topic.  It’s not a question that has a “right answer” for the kid to parrot back.  It’s a question, though, that hits a big tender spot in the faith.  If you habitually break promises, or the people who are forming your faith (Mom and Dad) are flagrant promise-breakers, you’ve got a cracked foundation you’re building on.  There’s repair work to be done.  Healing work.

In contrast, if the question reveals you’ve got a solid foundation, then look what’s coming: We need to keep that relationship of trust strong through the next five or ten years.  Further, for you my child who’s preparing for confirmation in the next few years? We need to think about what it is your baptismal promises mean, and what they entail.

That’s a lot impact for a discussion that took about five minutes in the car when I happened to get a snatch of time alone with my daughter for uninterrupted conversation.  Twenty of those through the course of the year?  The possibilities are breathtaking.

Inviting the Parents to be the Parents

The beauty of these assignments is that they help us parents do the part of the job that only we can do.  Catechists can review facts and fill in gaps in the kids’ knowledge, but discipleship is parent-work.  (We were also gently encouraged to get our kids to Mass regularly — another job that only a parent can do.)

I was very impressed by our first week because I felt like my daughter’s catechists understand what’s important and how this all works. When I went by the classroom, they were visibly happy to meet me and get to know me.

As far as I know, my daughter’s teachers are just a couple of ordinary catechists — goodhearted people who love God and love the kids and want to give it their best, but just normal people.  And that to me is a very hopeful thing: Normal people are out there doing smart, simple, easy things to help me raise my child in the faith.

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Photo by Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons