Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Review: Annie Jacobsen's The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA



The Pentagon’s Brain:  An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015).

Annie Jacobsen


Since 1958, DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has connected the US military with the academic and scientific expertise that it relies upon to maintain its technological advantage over present and likely future adversaries.    Journalist Annie Jacobsen has done a competent job of telling the story of this cooperation, within the limits of what information is unclassified and thus accessible.   A book with a subtitle that includes “Top Secret Military Research Agency” warns the reader that there are limits to what it is likely to tell them.   Jacobsen admits in her conclusion that “DARPA’s highest-risk, highest-payoff programs remain secret until they are unveiled on the battlefield” (451).  Given the limits of what she does not know, she tells a fascinating story of ingenuity and hubris, which ends with troubling ethical and moral implications.

Jacobsen begins her story with Castle Bravo, the codename of an operation in 1954 to test a new thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb on the remote Bikini Atoll, 2650 miles west of Hawaii.   The test was part of an effort to stay ahead of the Soviet Union in the nuclear arms race.  The Castle Bravo bomb took advantage of new technology to miniaturize warheads, so that the weapon detonated on Bilini was vastly more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb a decade before, and yet was not much larger.   The explosion was far more powerful than anticipated, to the point where the observers in a concrete and sand-covered bunker nineteen miles away wondered if they would survive the massive shockwave.    

Jacobsen uses Castle Bravo to set up her main theme, that scientific and technological progress threatens to outstrip our ability to manage it, not to mention our ethical preconceptions of how war is supposed to work.   Another example, similar to the scale of the Castle Bravo explosion, was the first test in 1960 of a massive radar in Greenland, which would allow NORAD (North American Defence Command) to detect Soviet missile launches.   The radar system was so powerful that its signals were detecting the rising moon, a quarter of a million miles away, and the primitive software was interpreting the signals as an attack.  It took human ingenuity and judgement to cancel a response and recalibrate the radar.   Similar wise judgements, Jacobsen recounts, prevailed in the eventual ending of above ground nuclear tests, by the superpowers, and the cancellation of bomb projects so vast that they would destroy continents.   Politicians, scientist, and military leaders could all agree that nuclear technology could never be used in war because there was no way to guarantee that it would not escalate, and no defence if it did.  In her final chapters, Jacobsen warns that we may not be so lucky with the technologies, including autonomous fighting systems (killer robots) and artificial intelligence, that DARPA is currently researching.

If human foresight and wisdom saved us from nuclear war thus far, that same wisdom is conspicuously absent in other chapters.   Jacobsen describes two episodes, one in Vietnam and the other in Iraq and Afghanistan, where military success depended on understanding the culture and motivation of human opponents.  In both cases, DARPA was tapped to recruit anthropologists and social scientists to help the US military understand why guerrilla insurgencies (the Vietcong in Vietnam and various insurgencies - Sunni, Shia and Taliban -in Afghanistan and Iraq) were motivating and recruiting their fighters.  These were questions that military leaders and technology could not answer.  The results, especially in the case of Vietnam, were not encouraging and provide a depressing spectacle of human folly.  When the civilian scientists concluded that the corrupt South Vietnamese regime and policies of forcible resettlement of peasants into fortified villages were creating insurgents, their findings were ignored, because they did not support the dominant paradigm that Communism was to blame.  Today, as Robert Kaplan points out in his recent book Asia’s Cauldron, we know that the Vietnamese have a long history of fighting invaders, and that Communism had far less to do with the struggle against the US than was supposed at the time.  Fears of falling dominos throughout Asia blinded the US to the role of simple, robust nationalism as a motivator.  

In Iraq and Afghanistan, social scientists were recruited into so-called Human Terrain Teams (HTTs), to help US commanders understand the tribal societies they were confronting, as counterinsurgency tactics forgotten post-Vietnam had to be relearned.  In so cases, HTTs were successful in helping troops to understand the human dimension of a complex and messy battlefield.  However, some in the civilian academic community felt that mapping the human terrain of what the military calls the “battlespace” could enable other groups within the military to identify high-value targets for capture or elimination, and that the work of civilian social scientists within the HTTs was not furthering the goal if impartial academic research.   One of the things one learns from Jaoobsen’s book is that when a DARPA program is green lighted, enormous sums of money flow.   Since the growing HTT program was farmed out to civilian defence contractors like BAE systems, unqualified people may have been hired, as this article suggests.  Eventually the Human Terrain program became a target for politicians crusading against waste, and the programs were scaled back, rebranded, or discontinued.

Because Jacobsen’s narrative is chronological, her book reads as a long series of projects that seemingly have little to do with one another, other than that their funding and research went through DARPA.   As a sequence, nuclear bombs, anthropologists in Vietnam, drones and IED jammers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and research on neurological enhancements and robots in the present day, all suggest a series of frenzied and trendy research programs, driven by the exigencies of the large wars America feared, and the small wars it found itself in.   I would suggest looking elsewhere for a military / historical perspective on why the US needs research agencies like DARPA.  Max Boot’s 2006 book, War Made New: Weapons, Warriors and the Making of the Modern World, would be one example of such a perspective.  Boot’s analysis of military technology’s evolution since 1500 shows a series of revolutions in weapons, tactics, and technology, each more remarkable and more compressed than the last, but each fatal for those powers that make poor choices.  Jacobsen’s book falls partially within what Boot calls the Information Revolution (c. 1970-2000), when America gained a decisive advantage in computer technology for weapons and command and control systems.  However, as Boot notes, having chosen to ride that tiger, the stakes involved have gotten higher and higher as the edge becomes less and less decisive.  Boot writes that:

"America’s early lead in the Information Revolution can easily be lost - it may be being lost already - if it does not stay at the forefront of military developments.  Other countries and even subnational entities such as al Qaeda have an opportunity to exert power that would have been unthinkable before the spread of personal computers, cell phones, satellite navigation devices, and other Information Age technologies” (p. 16). "

Jacobsen is write to end her book on a cautionary note as she worries about the implications of applying AI and robotics research to military uses.   She does not, however, note that other powers are undoubtedly working on the same systems.  The ease with which Russia could destroy Ukrainian field units in 2014-15 was through their own use of battlefield drones and computer controlled weapons systems.   If Jacobsen’s book is about technology as a Pandora’s box opened by soldiers and scientists, then that box was opened long ago, and, now opened, will take more than one world power to close.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter 1916 In The Trenches - Remembering Anglican Chaplaincy In The Great War

 This article is part of a series I am contributing to the newsletter of the Anglican Military Ordinariate, the clergy of the Anglican Church of Canada serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, as part of an ongoing celebration of the centenary of the Great War.   The complete edition of the newsletter for Easter 1916, as well as past versions, may be found here.  MP+



By Easter 1916, the Canadian Army in France had finished its apprenticeship of war and was starting to gain its reputation as an aggressive, modern force of shock troops.  With 36 combat battalions in three divisions in the line in France, and a Fourth Division soon to join them, Canada was hitting its stride of near full mobilization.   Its armed forces had doubled since the Canadian Expeditionary Force had first formed in 1914.   The CEF now included within its ranks specialists in tunnelling for the cat and mouse game of laying and detecting vast subterranean explosives planted under enemy trenches, while aggressive Canadian raiding tactics, first by night and later by day, had been approvingly noticed by the British Commander in Chief, Sir Douglas Haig.


France was not the only theatre of operations.   Canadian medical personnel operated in the Middle East, and two hospitals had been established at Mudros, a barren section of the Greek island of Lemnos (modern Limnos), to support the failed operation at Gallipoli.  Personnel and patients there suffered cruelly from inadequate water and rations, weather and disease, including scurvy.  The war diary of one of these hospitals conveys a sense of hardship in this one entry:  “Sickness among Officers, Nursing Sisters and men becoming prevalent.  Admission to Hospital of dysentery cases increasing daily.  The fly menace is very great, also the dust, and poor food supply very trying”.   It was at Mudros that Mary Frances Munro died,  the first of 47 Canadian nursing sisters to die in the Great War.  A native of Ontario and a graduate of Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, she died of illness and is among the Canadians buried at the Portianos Commonwealth Cemetery on Limnos.




Canadian military medical staff on Lemnos, ca 1916, from a Globe and Mail article, 2015.



Even in England, far removed from the hardships of Mudros, chaplaincy was challenging.  George Wells, the Anglican padre assigned to Shornecliffe military district, worried about how the Canadian soldier was “getting a very bad name” because of the temptations to “immoral behaviour” in “objectionable houses” and from those “soliciting in the streets”.  Wells worked hard to protect his soldiers, “those who were the pawns of war”.  His attempts to have such establishments put off limits were not sympathetically received by senior officers, who tended to blame the troops’ bad behaviour on the inadequate moral influences of their chaplains.  As Duff Crerar notes, the padres working in training camps faced an uphill battle.  Alcohol was easily obtainable, leadership was heavy handed, routines were tedious, and mandatory church parades were widely hated.  Social work in such conditions was especially challenging, but Wells had some success in championing unwed English mothers and getting Canadian soldiers to take responsibility for them.  In the near-Victorian morality of the period, one has to see this as an especially fearless and prophetic ministry.



For the CEF in the trenches, April 1916 was a cruel month.  Following the German offensive at Verdun, there was great emphasis on offensive action to relive the pressure on the French Army.  Just south of Ypres, Canadian troops were committed to a battle that became known as the St. Eloi Craters (27 March – 16 April 1916).  Four large mines were detonated under the German lines, but instead of the hoped-for breach, vast craters were created in the soggy landscape, complicating maneuver and navigation in the dismal landscape.   While some ground was won, the battlefield was “under constant enemy shelling, and men had been forced to crouch in mud-filled ditches and shell-holes, or stand all day in water nearly to their waists with no possibility of rest”.   During a relief in place under these appalling conditions, the Canadian 6th Brigade was caught in a German counterattack while badly strung out and not in defensive positions.   The Canadians were thrown back with heavy casualties, and the ground was retaken by the Germans.   The battle dragged on for days as an artillery duel before it ended, leaving 1,373 Canadians killed or wounded.  The Canadian official history describes St. Eloi as a “fiasco”, and its costly lessons were taken to heart in future trench offensives.


One of the St. Eloi Craters, Canadian War Museum


 One of the regiments hard pressed in the St. Eloi battle was the 6th Brigade’s 29th (Vancouver) Battalion.   Its chaplain was an Anglican, the Rev. Cecil Caldbeck Owen, a graduate of Wycliffe College and the Rector of Christ Church, Vancouver (today’s Christ Church Cathedral).  Owen, a vigorous man in his middle age, and widely popular in Vancouver, had long been a militia chaplain, and he went overseas with the newly formed 29th BN in May of 1915.  His 22 year old son Harold was by then already in France as an infantry officer.  




Padre Owen (right) with his son, Harold, in front of the Christ Church rectory, Vancouver, 1915, from Living Stones: A History of Christ Church Cathedral



 Christ Church granted Owen leave to serve in the CEF, and despite worries about his parish’s finances and attendance, he gained a reputation as a dedicated front-line chaplain.  He would have gone into action at St. Eloi still coping with grief, for his son Harold had been killed in action on 1 February, 1916.  Owen made a three hour journey on horseback to be present at Harold’s funeral, and like his colleague Canon Scott, continued in his ministry after losing his son to the war.    After the war, Owen served as a hospital chaplain in Vancouver, and was present at the dedication of the Vimy Monument, where he spoke of how “We must educate our children in the finer aspects of courage and sacrifice which emerged during the war so that they will remember the heroism and the deeper lessons which should have resulted from it”.  Sadly, war would ask another sacrifice of him.  Owen’s adopted son Luder Keshisian, an Armenian refugee, was an RCAF pilot in the Second World War, and was killed over Germany in June, 1944.   Padre Owen died in Vancouver on Christmas Eve, 1954, 


For those troops not in the line, Easter Sunday 1916 (24 April) happened to coincide with St. George’s Day, which was not lost on troops of English heritage.  Canon Scott, in the Ypres Salient with the First Division, describes how the engineers “built me a church, and a big sign over the door was first used on Easter Day … and we had very hearty services”.  For those Canadians in the nearby town of Poperinghe, like the Queen’s Own Rifles  which observed Easter Sunday with a church parade, there was the possibility of a visit to Talbot House, an all-ranks refuge created by an enterprising English Anglican, Padre “Tubby” Clayton.  


Talbot House, or “TocH” as it was known, offered soldiers a chance to worship in the chapel upstairs (which rocked alarmingly when packed with men) or to remind themselves of civilian life in the comforts of its drawing room and garden.  Visitors first saw a sign enjoining them to “Abandon rank, all ye who enter here”.  Padre Clayton knew the Canadian chaplains like Canon Scott, and welcomed many Canadian visitors.  He wrote that “Canadian churchmanship impressed me not a little.  For six months in 1916 a Canadian sergeant-major was the Vicar’s warden; and it was he who most appropriately welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury on his memorable visit to the House early that summer.  Almost the first Canadians I saw were two tunnellers, who on a weekday morning set out from the old French dug-outs beyond Vlamertinghe at 5am and arrived at the Chapel for the celebration (then at 6:30 on weekday), having heard that the service was held daily, and being quite prepared to forgo their chances of breakfast at the end of a ten-mile walk.”  


While TocH was a refuge, it was not a shelter.  Poperinghe lay within the Ypres salient, and as Clayton wrote, shells “crossed and recrossed the roof from three points of the compass”.  The congregations who knelt and prayed in TocH’s small chapel had to return to an even more dangerous front line.  A long war and uncertain survival still lay before them.    For padres like Clayton, all they could do was to try andfind these momentary places and times of grace for the troo, and commend the men to God in the terrible battles to come.

Padre Michael Peterson+

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Easter 2016 Anglican Military Ordinariate Newsletter

Here is a link to the Easter 2016 edition of the newsletter I edit for my diocese, the Anglican Military Ordinariate of the Canadian Armed Forces.

It includes several articles on an historic event, our first election of our Bishop Ordinary, as well as a book review and a continued look back 100 years at Canadian Anglican chaplains in the Great War.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

David Gushee On The Church Losing Its Stickiness


Baptist pastor and theologican David Gushee offers an interesting analysis of how Donald Trump's supporters who self-identify as Christian evangelicals attend church less frequently than other evangelicals, particularly those with a college degree who tend not to be Trump supporters.

The point here is not why some Christians are drawn to Trump, though that is a fascinating subject and has been covered well elsewhere.

Rather, Gushee's point is that these people embody changing conceptions of how Christian identity is lived out in a way that has less and less contact with church membership and worship.  When regular church attendence is now defined as once or twice a month on Sunday, he argues, then Christian identity is attenuated as formation, discipleship, and the influence of the pastorate become hollowed out.

 It becomes very hard to pastor a flock when the flock always changes. It is hard to feel deeply spiritually connected, hard to want to become vulnerable, to a group that is not stable in its membership. The mere whiff of conflict can terrify church leaders because it can accelerate the churn and potential loss of membership that is always a possibility anyway.

Perhaps most germane to the politics of the moment, it is hard for church leaders to teach anybody anything in a sustained manner if hardly anyone is present in a sustained manner. The more technical way to say it is that Christian spiritual and moral formation weakens because fewer congregants commit to that formation in any particular place. And pastors have reason to fear that just as soon as they say anything challenging — like about racial prejudice, greed, or violence — congregants who don’t like that message can drift out just as easily as they drifted in.

So, America has a whole bunch of half-churched Christians, some of whom would answer “evangelical” on a survey. This, I think, explains a lot about what is happening in our churches, and in society.

It is worth noting that Gushee is writing s a US Baptist, so he is describing a phenomenon that is not confined to mainstream Protestant denominations.  The basic point is that wherever the denomination,  when the church loses its stickiness, its capacity to attract and form the faithful through the weekly discipline of word and sacrament, then the integrity and depth of Christian identity suffers.

This is not necessarily to say that evangelicals who align politically with Trump are necessarily deficient in their Christianity (though others, including Pope Francis, have suggested this), but it does suggest that termscasually invoked by pollsters and pundits, such as evangelical, are far more complex than many think. 

Having just returned from a three day retreat at the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA, a community shaped by prayer, a shared identity in Christ and a rule of life, I am reminded of why the faithful need the church to shape and sustain our lives.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Military Goats In History

As all Mad Padre readers know, the military goat is a subject much beloved here.

Today, while working on a WW1 writing project, I came across this terrific photo of a soldier of Canada's Queen's Own Rifles with the regiment's dimunitive mascot.

In another photo of the same mascot and soldier, the handler is identified as a stretcher bearer.  The goat is wearing a "coat" showing the QoR's designation in the CEF as the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion.

The goat may be the same chap shown in this photo, identified as being from May 1918.

Sadly thus far, this goat is nameless.  In later decades the QoR had a Great Dane as their mascot.  At least one other famous Canadian regiment, the Royal 22nd or VanDoos, had a famous goat mascot known as Baptiste, who will feature in a later post, I hope.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Book Review: Robert D. Kaplan, Asia`s Cauldrom

Book Review: Robert D. Kaplan, Asia`s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific
One of the perks that my naval chaplain colleagues get to enjoy are cruises (I'm sorry, exercises).  Among these, the most favoured seem to be Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), when a ship or two from the Royal Canadian Navy`s Pacific fleet heads for Hawaii to participate in a multinational, US-led naval exercise.   I say US led because no other country has as many warships, aircraft carriers and submarines in the Pacific as the US Navy does, though China does appear to be a rising competitor (which is the subject of this book).

Actually I shouldn't envy my RCN chaplain friends that much.  One padre I greatly respect did yeoman service on HMCS Protecteur, an aging tanker and supply ship, when she was disabled by an engine fire while training in the Pacific in 2014 and had to be towed back to Canada, where she was eventually taken out of service.   It was an arduous and dangerous `cruise`, and since the Pro`s laundry facilities were destroyed in the fire, when her crew finally reached Hawaii, as my friend described it, their uniforms had been reduced to dirty rags.

Why Canada contributes ships from its small and aging navy to exercises like RIMPAC is a part of a larger story of the history of the strategic alliances that have contributed to the world order as it has continued since 1945.  Robert Kaplan tells part of this larger story, focusing on how relations among the countries bordering the South China Sea - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Tawian and, of course China - have been maintained until recently by the projection of US military power.  This is a story of international trade and navies and the relations between the two, which, as Mahan knew well, are inseparable.

Sadly, Canadian readers will find no mention of our small navy in this book, but they will be startled to know how many other countries`navies are mentioned.  Just one statistic among many is remarkable: by 2030, the Asian nations, including Japan, South Korea, and Australia, are expected to purchase a total of 111 submarines, as well as other naval and air assets.   The reason for this buildup can be found any time that the media mentions one of the obscure islands, such as the Spratlys, where China is building a formibable ring of bases, airfields and missile platforms to match its growing navy.  As Kaplan notes, the way military spending is currently going, China ``will have more warships in the Western Pacific than the US Pacific Fleet`` by the 2020s (35).

The paradox, as Kaplan describes it, is that while all these Asian nations are building up their militaries, they are all interconnected by maritime trade.   Half the world`s merchant tonnage passes through the South China Sea, which Kaplan describes  the mass of connective tissue where global sea routes coalesce``.  Most of China`s oil consumption comes through these waters.   A realist would conclude that no country, not even China, would risk disrupting this status quo.  So why the naval arms race?

The answer is partly because of history.  Kaplan describes meeting Chinese party officials and bureacrats for whom the memory of China`s colonial dismemberment in the 19th century is still a humiliation to be redressed.  Only a powerful China can guarantee that this never happens again.  At the same time the Vietnamese, who have ancient and modern memories of their wars of independence, think far more of their conflicts with China than they do of their war with the US.  As one Vietnamese diplomat told Kaplan, `Think of how touchy Canadians are about America, now imagine if America had repeatedly sent troops into Canada`.   At the same time countries like Malaysia and the Philippines wonder how they can protect their independence and their claims to maritime resources and fisheries.

The other part of the answer is the shifting balace of geostrategic power.  The question of how far the US will pivot to Asia, and what that means, is still open.   As Kaplain puts it, either the US carefully but firmly asserts its presence in the region, and pushes back against China, or the lesser countries in the region will be susecptible to a process of `Finlandization`` by which they fall within the Chinese sphere of influence and thus lose the substance of their independence.  This may ultimately not be something that the US and its allies want to go to war over. If push comes to shove, is the US any more likely to go to war over Taiwan than, say, Estonia?    But unless China sees was as a real possibility if it pushes too hard and too far, then the price of letting China gain influence will result in a situation akin to that of the US acquiring the Caribbean after the Spanish-American War, so that the South China Sea becomes `China`s Caribbean`. 

All these questions now seem more relevant at the prospect of a Trump presidency in the US.  Much has been made of Trump`s foreign policy, or lack thereof.   A number of conservative foreign policy experts have criticized him for scattered statements about wanting America`s allies to pay for the protection that the US has so far been giving them.  As they write,  `(Trump`s) insistence that close allies such as Japan must pay vast sums for protection is the sentiment of a racketeer, not the leader of the alliances that have served us so well since World War II``.

Kaplan explores that very point in his analysis of the US security arrangement with the Philippines, which now seems to regret its decision to close US bases such as Subic Bay.    The Philippines simply does not have the military or naval forces to deter China, which is pushing hard up against them.   As one analyst tells Kaplan, the Philippines are like a propety with a ramshacke fence and a big dog, the dog, of course, being the US Navy.  Take the dog away and the fence doesn`t look so impressive.

Canada is in a similar position to the Philippines, I think, in that with all due respect to our gallant bur small and rusting Navy, we have no strategic influence in the far Pacific, and only a minimal ability to assert our will and presence in our part of the Pacific.  Fortunately, sandwiched between Seattle and Alaska, our west coast is within the US zone of vital influence, and so we can continue to enjoy our place under the American unbrella for the forseeable future.  The unpleasant dilemma for us is that these are populist and protectionist days in the US.   Neither Trump nor Saunders appear that interested in the complex web of foreign security arrangements that maintain the order described in Kaplan`s book.   The people likely to vote for Trump and Saunders seen uninterested in the opinions of foreign policy experts, since, after all, those are the guys who led the US into Iraq and Afghanistan.   If protectionism is seen as the cure for the jobs and wages lost to globalization and cheap Chinese imports, then the web of trade that inclines its participants towards peace in the South China Sea looks less influential.

Whatever ships we manage to send to the next RIMPAC, Canada is unlikely to influence what happens in Asia's cauldron, but it's possible that we aren`t going to like where we end up.  In the event of a sustained naval war between the US and China, Canada will have a role that our public and media have scarcely imagined.   It wouldn`t be the first time its happened like this.  In World War Two we built a large navy of small ships from scratch to help sweep the Atlantic clear of submarines.  We built small ships because that was all our shipyards were capable of.   We ran a few larger ships donated by our allies (Bonaventure and Uganda) but our speciality was little ships in big seas.    In the event of a long war in the Pacific, I have no idea if Canada could generate a similar navy, given that the technology required to survive and fight in today's naval battlespace is light years beyond what our Flower class corvettes took to sea in 1945, or whether we could train enough sailors to the necessary standards.     Let`s hope we aren`t tested.

Monday, March 7, 2016

What Is The Good Death? Two Authors' Answers

With the Supreme Court of Canada grudgingly giving the federal government a little more time to prepare legislation on physician- assisted dying, and Canada's largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese joinining the debate, saying that it seeks to "protect vulnerable groups under Canada’s new law, and ensure that medical professionals who object to doctor-assisted dying on moral and religious grounds are exempt from providing those services", I suspect that this issue is on the minds of many.

Several times this winter, my neighbour B. and I have met in our driveays, leaned on our snowshovels and chatted.  B., a retired man somewhere in his seventies, is caring for his wife, who is dying of cancer and is struggling to manage her bodily functions and pain levels.  She has told B. that she would gladly die now if she could find someone to help her, which I can tell is distressing to him.  How many households across Canada have similar situations, I wonder.

Today I learned about  Anne Neumann, who is a visiting scholar at the Center for Religion and Media at New York University.  Neuman has just published a book called “The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America”. 

In this brief review published by the Religion New Service, Kimberly Winston notes that according to Neumann, religion is never greatest in our social life than at the time of dying, and religion influences laws and health care practices that work against assisted dying.

"Religion is most prevalent around the deathbed in our country,” Neumann, 47, said in a phone interview from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. “That is where it is resoundingly proven that we are not a secular nation.”

“The laws, medical practices and corporate regulations that surround death and dying continue to be strongly influenced by religion, whether it is in the delivery of health care through Catholic hospitals, whether it is in the rituals that medical practice is infused with, or whether it is simply in the language that we find acceptable around the dying.”

At the end of the day, Neumann argues, the dying should be the ones who decide how they die.

“A good death is whatever a patient wants,” Neumann said. “It is not up to me, to their legislators, to their priests, to their families. That is true informed consent. A good enough death is as close as we can get because humans are not perfect. We can get so much closer, but we will never have a perfect death.”

Another person who seems likely to agree with Neuman, and who has also just written on the subject, is the incomparable Diane Rehm, a broadcaster on US public radio whose husband of 54 years recently died of Parkinsons.  Here is an excerpt of her interview with Jeffrey Brown ot the PBS NewsHour:

Now in a new book titled “On My Own,” she’s addressing a more personal an raw topic, the death of her husband John after 54 years of marriage. John was dying owed with Parkinson’s disease in 2005 and moved into an assisted living facility in 2012.

Two years later, in steady decline, he decided to end his life. But with doctors legally barred from assisting, his only option was to refuse food, liquids and medication. His death came 10 days later. Diane Rehm lives alone now with her dog Maxie and with lingering grief and anger over her husband’s last days.

DIANE REHM: I so resented that John was having to go through this long 10-day process to die. He had said 10 days earlier he was ready to die, and it took him that long. It shouldn’t have, I don’t believe, taken him that long.
JEFFREY BROWN: You write: “I rage at a system that wouldn’t allow John to be helped toward his own death.”
He knew what he was going through. You two had talked this through, and he just wanted to let it happen.
DIANE REHM: He wanted to relinquish life. He didn’t commit suicide. He wanted to let go of life and be on to the next journey.

Diane Rehm's book would be a good companion to Neumann's, I think.  Both are on my list.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

ACC Primate's Charge to Anglican Military Ordinariate Electoral College

This Saturday, March 5th, an Electoral College, representing the fifty Anglican chaplains serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, will select the first Bishop Ordinary to be elected by members of the Military Ordinariate.   Previously this post was appointed by the head of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Primate.  

Primate Fred with our retiring Ordinary, Bishop Peter Coffin

Primate Fred Hiltz' charge to the Electoral College may be found here.  In this ten minute video, the Primate offers reflections not only on this election, but on the task of military chaplains, and on the role of the Holy Spirit in the deliberations of the church.   It is a very helpful short meditation on this aspect of Anglican ecclesilogy.

I have always appreciated the Primate's support of me and my fellow Anglican chaplains, and thank him for the way he has guided us through this process.


Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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