Bioethical Expertise and Government

Joshua Preston:

Here’s my second article for Columbia’s “Voices in Bioethics.” In it I review a paper by Dr. Annabelle Littoz-Monnet and discuss the problems inherent at the intersection of bioethical “expertise” and government. In short, there’s no such thing as the neutral state.

Originally posted on :

by Joshua Preston 

In a new paper published by Dr. Annabelle Littoz-Monnet, an associate professor of political science at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, she asks whether government bioethics experts bolster or inhibit democratic control of policy. To answer this, she cites the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies’ (EGE) role in the European Union’s early-2000s debate on whether to fund human embryotic stem cell research. Drawing upon news articles, reports, and personal interviews, Dr. Littoz-Monnet observes that when the debate reached a stalemate, the European Commission (the EU’s executive body) sought out the EGE’s recommendations. What followed was the use of the EGE as a means for “control[ling] the policy process despite the presence of a salient and publicly debated conflict (17, italics in original).

Although the case study is itself interesting, the value of Dr. Littoz-Monnet’s paper lies…

View original 740 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Colonel Surrenders in Minnesota

I’m posting here an article I originally wrote for the March 2014 Kandiyohi County Historical Society newsletter. In it I tell the story of something that, growing up in Montevideo, I was vaguely aware of but knew nothing about. So, turning to the archives, I looked up the only time (as far as I’m aware) a U.S. President visited western Minnesota. The fact that it happened to be Teddy Roosevelt just as he was planning his political comeback should be no surprise. Two years later, in 1912, the state rewarded Roosevelt’s efforts with its 12 electoral votes.

Radical politics were nothing new to the western part of the state — in fact, the seventh district’s first congressman was a member of the Populist Party and, later, represented by the prohibitionist Andrew J. Volstead. (It’s forgotten now, but prohibition was a progressive movement that advocated for women’s suffrage and workers’ rights among other things). Because of this and the fact that the major rails to the Twin Cities ran through the region, it was not uncommon for satellite cities like Willmar to receive their fair share of speakers. Just in Willmar everyone from William Jennings Bryan (source) to Eugene V. Debs (source) and “Big Bill” Haywood (source) addressed packed auditoriums. Later, as I’ve written elsewhere, this same region was a hotbed for the Farmer-Labor Association, and it was Appleton that Farmer-Labor Party Governor Elmer Benson called home.

We’ve come a long way!


The Colonel Surrenders in Minnesota

Teddy Roosevelt in Willmar Minnesota 2

President Roosevelt speaking in Willmar, MN. (KCHS Archives)

When Teddy Roosevelt arrived in New York after a tour of Europe he returned to find the Republican Party in disarray. In the summer of 1910, by now in his second year out of office, disappointment was growing in his successor, William Howard Taft, and so as the midterm elections approached it was conventional wisdom that the party would suffer. If it was not the Democrats who would win seats, it would be the progressive wing of the Republican Party, which was growing increasingly antagonistic toward the Taft conservatives. It was a fissure Roosevelt himself created while in office, but it was Taft’s own policies – such as the 1909 Aldrich Tariff – that exacerbated the split.

Since the first days of the republic the debate over the tariff was one divided by ideological as well as economic and geographic lines. If the tax on imports was high, it protected domestic manufacturers but at the expense of the consumer. A low tariff, on the other hand, favored consumers but threatened industry. As the tariff increased under Taft those most vulnerable to its effects – including the agricultural classes of the Midwest – searched for an alternative. With progressive Republicans scattered across the country it was an open question who could lead this new faction and so all eyes were on Roosevelt when it was announced that he would soon embark on a “western tour.”

While upset that his party was trying to evict insurgent (read progressive) forces from its ranks Roosevelt was persuaded to stump for his fellow Republicans on a tour into “the heartland of the insurgency,” the Midwest.[1] Under the auspices of traveling as a private citizen he announced that after seeing the palaces of Europe and the grasslands of Africa he would not feel “home” until he saw again the plains of his ranching youth.[2] Receiving hundreds of invitations begging an appearance, many of these he declined wishing “to make it understood clearly that he could consider no further invitation” as he was “compelled to refuse that he would rather have accepted.”[3] Still, this did not stop his admirers from trying or the newspapers from speculating that the Colonel had “undertaken a campaign for the presidential nomination in 1912.”[4]

Nearly 6,000 people waited at the Willmar depot to catch a glimpse of President Roosevelt. (KCHS Archives)

Nearly 6,000 people waited at the Willmar depot to catch a glimpse of President Roosevelt. (KCHS Archives)

Setting out on August 25 he went as far west as Denver before circling up through Osawatomie, KS, where he gave his most important speech of the tour. On August 31, standing on a table and speaking over the sounds of the crowd gathered around him, for the first time he publicly distanced himself from the conservative Republican cause. In what came to be known as the “Osawatomie Speech” he outlined a “New Nationalism” where service to one’s community trumped property rights, fortunes were taxed for the common welfare, and campaign spending was transparent. In closing he called for a new citizen spirit, stating, “The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive.”[5] This was anathema to the Taft conservatives and so as news of his speech spread the media accused him of being a “neo-Populist” or worse – a communist.[6]

By the time Roosevelt reached Omaha he lost count of how many speeches he had given over the last week and so, exhausted by his morning-to-midnight schedule, on Sunday, September 4, he looked forward to rest. To guarantee this he “instructed his secretary to send telegrams to towns through which he was to pass today, saying that as it was Sunday, he would make no speeches whatever from the train.”[7] Yet, as before, this did not stop his admirers from asking – including the Commercial Club of Willmar – or prevent rural newspapers from advertising his “visit.” In the Willmar Tribune, for example, top and center on its front page, it observed that even without the promise of seeing him “it is a safe prediction that an enormous crowd of citizens will be on hand … when Col. Roosevelt’s special pulls in.”[8] When he left Sioux Falls for Fargo on a rail that passed through the western prairie of Minnesota these crowds, banners in hand, proved his telegrams were ignored.

Approaching the station in Marshall, the crowd that gathered chanted the president’s name, “Teddy! Teddy!” and demanded “Let’s see you!” Sitting in his railcar, the Colonel acquiesced by waving through the window, hoping to return to his reading. Met by loud cheers, the audience continued its pressure until at last he surrendered and stepped out to say a few words. This foreshadowed what was to come at each of the stations ahead including Hanley Falls, Morris, Campbell, and Breckenridge.[9] This led one reporter to observe that “The colonel made more speeches today than on almost any other day since he began his trip.”[10] It was in Willmar, though, where before a crowd of three to six thousand people he decided to give a Sunday afternoon “sermon.”

President Roosevelt in Willmar, MN. (KCHS Archives)

“You people listen to the sermon and I get the flowers.” (KCHS Archives)

As Roosevelt rode into the station on the train’s rear platform, the Willmar crowd erupted into cheers. Quickly the crowd silenced, though, when the Colonel began speaking, saying it would be improper to give a formal speech on Sunday but that, instead, he would offer a brief sermon. Discussing the duties of citizenship, channeling the spirit of Osawatomie, he remarked that “he had no use for the citizen who talked much but did little to improve conditions.”[11] In order for the nation to thrive citizens ought to live with honesty and courage, but also “the saving grace of common sense. If a man is a natural-born fool, you can’t do much with him.”[12] And then,

Seeing an old soldier in the crowd [Roosevelt] gave a very complimentary reference to the defenders of the country, but then turning to a mother holding a child he said: “But I think you will agree with me when I place above all, even above the old soldier, the good mother.”[13]

As he spoke a little girl was lifted upon her father’s shoulders so she could hand the Colonel a bouquet of asters, which pleased him. “That’s fine, fine!” he said of the gift. “You people listen to the sermon and I get the flowers.” While only ten minutes, it was his longest stop of the day, and so when the train started up again he waved his goodbye and “glided away over the glistening rails.”[14]


[1] Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 2010), 103.
[2] “Speaks Sept. 5,” The Searchlight, July 15, 1910, 4.
[3] “Plan Roosevelt Tours,” The New York Tribune, July 15, 1910, 2.
[4] Quoted in Morris, Colonel, 106.
[5] Quoted in Morris, Colonel, 108-109.
[6] Morris, Colonel, 109-110.
[7] “Throngs Allow Teddy No Rest,” The Salt Lake Tribune, September 5, 1910, 1.
[8] “Col. T. Roosevelt at Willmar,” Willmar Tribune, August 31, 1910, 1.
[9] One local historian records a funny anecdote. As the train pulled through Donnelly two girls jumped on their horses using gunny sacks for saddles and chased the President’s train while it pulled away. One “cut a switch from a tree” so as “to touch Teddy Roosevelt on the nose with it.” His reaction? Smiling, he “said over and over again, ‘God bless you my children! God bless you my children!’” as they struggled to keep up. Edna Mae Busch, The History of Stevens County (1976), 158.
[10] “Throngs Allow Teddy No Rest.”
[11] “Col. Roosevelt at Willmar,” Willmar Tribune, September 7, 1910, 1.
[12] “Throngs Allow Teddy No Rest”
[13] “Col. Roosevelt at Willmar.”
[14] “Col. Roosevelt at Willmar.”
Posted in DFL Party, History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Upon the high and burnished heavens these words: The place to buy hardware stoves and tinsware is at Pierce’s.”

As part of my continuing series digging through the archives of the Internet, I came across the following in the January 30, 1897, edition of The Labor World, a weekly newspaper published in Duluth, MN. The Labor World (which is still around) sought not only to organize the working class within the “Twin Harbors” area of Duluth and Superior, WI, but also reported on local issues. Although I intend to write about its coverage of Eugene V. Debs’ frequent visits to the major port city, I found the following pretty funny.

“Roasts the Editor” is an ad in the style of those one occasionally stumbles across that purports to be a Special Report by the magazine’s Dentists Hate Him! expert. Maybe more hardware stone companies should follow Mr. “James Wouldbe Riley’s” stead.

Duluth Labor World - Roasts the Editor

“Roasts the Editor” in Duluth’s “The Labor World,” Jan. 30, 1897.

Posted in Archival Work, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen

Yesterday I came across a poem and, reading it, obsessed over its simplicity, its horror, its capacity to make the past breathe (or, more appropriately, choke). Although there are many reasons why one may write poetry, one of the highest, I believe, is to aspire for timelessness. “Dulce et Decorum est” by the WWI-era British soldier Wilfred Owen does that.
Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

 
A few weeks ago I wrote about the centennial of the assassination of Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand and how it triggered the events that led to World War One. So, it’s in this same spirit I’m posting the work of Owen who, unfortunately, never lived to see much of his poetry published. Sadly, on November 4, 1918, he was killed in the battlefield one week before the Armistice was signed.
 
It’s easy to distance oneself from the past, to see epochs not our own in faded colors, the actors as automatons playing their parts to achieve the present. In some ways, I think this habit is a self-defense mechanism, but I’ll save that for another article (Does this mean the future will forget my own humanity? But everything I do is so important!). But it’s through pieces like this that the snake-trenches across Europe become real. It’s scenes like those in the last stanza that the horrors of war become vivid.
 
“Dulce et Decorum est”
 
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
 
Those last lines ought to be remembered by every apologist for armed conflict. Here in the United States, I’m disgusted by how we glorify warfare, how we fantasize over conquering, how buried deep inside each of us, instead of seeing a Mother, a Father, a Child, a Human — we see a Warrior. It’s apparent in the language we use, and it’s apparent in Arlington Cemetery.
 
I was so entranced by Owen’s piece that I decided record my own reading and, taking a break, I came across the following in Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963). At this point, the characters are at a memorial service and someone just finished reciting a poem about a dead soldier that ends with the question, ” ‘Pro Patria.’ / What do they mean, anyway?”
 
“What do they mean, anyway?” echoed Ambassador Horlick Minton. “They mean, ‘For one’s country.’ ” And he threw away another line. “Any country at all,” he murmured.
 
“This wreath I bring as a gift from the people of one country to the people of another. Never mind which countries. Think of people. …
 
“And any children murdered in war …
 
“And any country at all” (p.256).
 
All of these dead — whether in the Great or Iraq Wars, whether British or German or Iraqi — these are people, children, murdered in any war for any country at all.
Posted in History, Philosophy, Poetry/Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Butterfly Sleeps on the Temple Bell” by Don Olsen, Midwest Printer

A Butterfly Sleeps on the Temple Bell by Don Olsen

“A Butterfly Sleeps on the Temple Bell: A Reminiscence on the Ox Head Press, 1966-2000″ by Don Olsen, Printer & Proprieter

Recently, SMSU English professor and Rural Lit RALLY Advisory Board member David Pichaske was kind enough to send me a copy of Don Olsen’s A Butterfly Sleeps on the Temple Bell: A Reminiscence on the Ox Head Press, 1966-2000 (Cross+Roads Press, 2003, 124pgs). Unfortunately, it’s out of print but I wanted to say a few words about it since, sadly, nowadays if it can’t be found with a Google Search, it doesn’t exist. Consider this short review my way of contributing to the western Minnesota paper trail.

Don Olsen was a letterpress printer who, prior to retiring in the late-’80s, was a librarian at Southwest Minnesota State University. It was during time that he founded Ox Head Press. In addition to printing cards and broadsides, Olsen published several small pamphlets by an impressive list of writers including Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Ursula K. Le Guin, Pablo Neruda, and Stephen Dunn. Many of these can only be found in university archives (in fact, a Google search for “Ox Head Press” only returns archive catalogs). As the book unfolds, so too does his printer’s philosophy, which incidentally was opposed to exactly what’s happened to his pieces.

Early on, I decided that I wanted Ox Head publications to be something that would be accessible to those of modest means. … I could produce “fine printing,” but instead of going fancy, I would rely on standard book papers. I would settle for “nice” printing.

Most of what is called “fine printing” goes into the private libraries of collectors or into the rare book rooms of libraries and museums where few people ever will hold the book in their hands. There is a kind of snobbery to this kind of work. Nevertheless, “fine printing” understandably is the standard by which typography and printing is judged. (p.39)

Still, this didn’t stop the Library of Congress or art museums from collecting copies of his more satirical pamphlets the moment they were bound. Of these, his parodynthology of William Carlos Williams is especially clever, and I hope someone with a rare copy digitizes it. It’s about time many of these pieces of literary “ephemera” were made more accessible.

The major weakness of A Butterfly Sleeps is that Olsen appears indecisive as to whether his book is a personal memoir or a commentary on his publications. Perhaps one could call it an autobiographical bibliography. This isn’t meant to put the text down — I will still recommend it to my friends involved in letterpress — but as an historian, there is much I wish he would’ve expanded upon. For example, the first several essays discuss his time at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s where he hung out at jazz clubs in Seven Corners and learned from John Berryman, James Wright, and Allen Tate, but blink and you’ll miss them. Also, practically nothing is said of the relationships he formed with the many poets and writers he published. Most surprisingly, when his son’s 1991 suicide marks the decline of the press, he dedicates to this event only a few paragraphs.

Any editorial problems one may have with the book, though, should be overlooked as, abruptly, it ends with the third-person statement that Olsen was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer on September 5, 2003. “It was not known how long he would live.” Thus, even for its shortcomings, A Butterfly Sleeps on the Temple Bell are Olsen’s last words on what I believe to be a significant part in Minnesota’s history and have taken to calling the “Prairie Renaissance.” It’s a valuable contribution, and in the age of the e-book, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be readily available.

The following poem, written in the first months following the Iraq invasion, closes the book:

A DAY LIKE ALL DAYS

What kind of day
is it going to be?
It will be a day
like all days, filled
with those events
which alter
and illuminate
our times, and we’ll
be there. We’re going
over to Wal-Mart,
where the wife
will get herself
a new laundry basket
and I’m gonna get me
a new urinal. It makes
a guy feel proud
to live in the good
old U. S. of A.
where any day
we feel like
standing proud,
we can beat the shit
out of someone or
go to the nearest
Wal-Mart to buy
all the essential plastics
of the good life.
This is America, pal.
Love it or leave it.

Some choice, eh?

Don Olsen
5/28/03

Posted in History, Literature, Prose | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US v. Hendrickson: Sentencing the Addict’s Brain

Joshua Preston:

Recently I’ve become a staff writer for Columbia University’s “Voices in Bioethics.” Here’s my debut article on US v. Hendrickson, a recent district court sentencing opinion that draws upon neuroscience. In it Judge Bennett cites the work of my boss, Dr. David Eagleman.

Originally posted on :

by Joshua Preston 

If there was any doubt whether bioethics scholarship was impacting the legal system, District Judge Mark W. Bennett’s recent sentencing opinion in US v. Hendrickson (2014) removed it. Referencing society’s evolving view of addiction and disease, he noted that “advances in science continue to outpace advances in law” and that even though addiction is no longer regarded as a moral failing but rather an illness:

the law still responds to drug abusers with punitive force, rather than preventative or therapeutic treatment. It is therefore unsurprising that, since 1980, the number of federal prisoners serving drug-related sentences has skyrocketed.

Mind DespairAlthough the medical community recognizes that addiction affects a victim’s judgment and behavior, Judge Bennett wrote that, within the legal community, there is no consensus whether courts should treat it as a mitigating circumstance. Instead, some judges insist it is mitigating only when it falls outside convention…

View original 383 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

The Sharknado of Social Systems

Today the Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby that private corporations can exercise their religious freedom by denying women access to particular forms of birth control.

First, I’d like to begin with a few words on religious freedom and the regulation of business. The fundamental tension of government lies in balancing the desires of individuals with the needs of an organized, functioning society. These needs are the subject of discourse guided by conflicting visions of what enhances (and guarantees) individual liberty. Until now it has been clear that one’s religious freedom extends up until it threatens the rights and liberties of others (and this is the “Harm Principle”). No matter what you do or how you do it, you’re welcome to up until others’ rights are infringed. This is in the private sphere.

Now, when one enters the public sphere to conduct business, one must conform to those policies that arose from the discourse. This means getting all of the necessary permits, following the rules, and abiding by whatever worker and environmental regulations exist. It’s a process and everyone follows it — no one gets special treatment (in theory). It sets the supposedly-level playing field on which the marketplace stands.

What’s happened now is that the Supreme Court has ruled that a corporation’s religious beliefs (1) trump the harm caused to women by restricting their reproductive (and health) freedom, and (2) can cherry-pick those regulations meant to level the marketplace. The nice thing about religious freedom is that it was designed to allow beliefs to flourish and thrive – and where we’re headed: they’re really going to. If every man is a church; every man can pick the laws he’d like to follow. Never mind the democratic discourse. If you believe it (or believe you believe it), have fun.

As Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion:

Would the exemption … extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.

What if it’s against someone’s religious belief to have a minimum wage? What if their beliefs view some people — based on sexual orientation or race — as unclean? What if they believe “blessed are the peacemakers“? (That last one was a joke; nobody believes that).

What we’re seeing now is the marriage of two of the worst social systems born from the minds of men: Corporatism and Theocracy. We can tell ourselves It Can’t Happen Here, but it is. This is literally the Sharknado of Social Systems. It’s now only a matter of time before some company requires its female employees to take monthly, unpaid, seven-day sick leaves so as to properly observe Leviticus 15:19:

Whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. If you touch her during that time, you will be defiled until evening.

After all, it’s what God would want.

Posted in News, Philosophy, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment