December 2008

The Day Donny Herbert Woke Up: A True Story.  By Rich Blake. Harmony Books. 246 pages. $23.

Donny and Linda Herbert were just 19 years old when they married in 1981 at St. Agatha's Catholic Church in Buffalo, N.Y. They followed the time-honored ways of clan and class in marrying and having children while still young -- traditions imbued with the optimism and hope that mark healthy societies. Rich Blake's cool journalistic eye sets up the times of their lives on Buffalo's Irish Catholic South Side in his biography of Donny Herbert, The Day Donny Herbert Woke Up: A True Story. Readers are invited to inspect the young couple's blue-collar enclave, where most folks, deeply wedded to their community, were just a generation or two from the old country. Blake knows this territory, and he puts some spit and polish on ethnic Buffalo of the 1970s and 1980s -- decades that were still a time of regular church-going, weekly novenas, and fish sticks on Fridays. Many grown children remained nearby, purchasing their childhood homes from ailing parents, or buying and remodeling their grandparents' residences. Cell phones did not assault the public square, and the admixture of video games, pay television, and tasteless advertising did not yet have a stranglehold on entertainment.

Blake's matter-of-fact, often staccato-like reporting delivers a bounty of anecdotal material on the community's citizenry, setting up scenes with Irish, German, Polish, and Italian-Americans growing edgy in the 1970s. Tough times hit inner-city Buffalo, and historic neighborhoods began to decline. Parochial schools started to close as city folk headed for the suburbs. However, urban decay doesn't color the whole picture: A lovely palette of parks and open space around Buffalo offers sharp contrasts. Neighborhoods surrounded by rail yards and foundries were just a few miles from natural areas. The author's account of the Tifft Nature Preserve, a reclaimed industrial area encircled by junkyards and abandoned grain elevators, deftly parallels the stable families and parishes surrounded by an encroaching junk culture.

The Herberts were high-school sweethearts from big families, and there was no talk of college for either of them. After a few years as a machinist, Donny became a fireman. He exhibited a scrappy work ethic early in life, delivering newspapers, shoveling snow, mowing lawns, and playing sports -- especially football. A more innocent era offered 12-year-old kids great freedom. In the 1970s Donny and a friend "scavenged bicycles built from junked parts," had some mishaps with BB guns, hopped freight trains, picked through dangerous trash piles and creeks (often recklessly), and hitchhiked out to the country. As a young adult, Donny's handyman skills and boundless energy ensured that the dedicated fireman, fisherman, and bow hunter was always called to help with friends' repair projects. Blake declares that "a civil servant who made around thirty-five thousand dollars a year, who owned a house built on an abandoned street with a government grant, who drove around in a secondhand car, and whose most valuable personal possessions consisted of a hodgepodge set of old tools, a bow, some arrows, a few fishing rods, and a tackle box, Donny would never be considered a wealthy man." The author does not shy away from less-appealing cultural attributes, informing readers that Donny's father was "like a lot of men from an older generation, he wasn't big on interacting with his children."

A horrific on-the-job injury in December 1995 left the young husband and father of four boys in a vegetative state for almost ten years. When it seemed that her husband would continue in this condition indefinitely, Linda consulted many specialists, wending her sorrowful way through medical minutiae in a maze of differing opinions. Leading authorities on brain injuries and oxygen deprivation had conflicting prognoses and a confusing menu of treatment plans. Linda kept the doldrums at bay by exploring a number of therapies, a move that led to a rift with her in-laws. Blake's portrayal of the brokenhearted, bickering family will tug at the heartstrings of readers soldiering through similar dark valleys.

In April 2005, almost a decade after the accident, Donny Herbert awakened from his coma with a stunning coherence, and the Herberts were besieged by the global media. All the ingredients for an old-fashioned melodrama were at hand during these triumphant days, but Blake never allows the narrative to slide into sensationalism. Donny slipped back into a vegetative state, but not before he insisted that he had seen the former vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Msgr. Nelson H. Baker, a venerated spiritual leader who died in 1936 at age 94. Msgr. Baker has had several "unexplained ‘miracles' and mysterious healings" attributed to his intercession, and he is currently a candidate for beatification and sainthood. Donny died at the age of 44 on February 21, 2006.

Donny and Linda Herbert lived during the twilight years of a dying urban district where neighborhood solidarity, seasoned by strong schools, churches, clubs, and coils of extended families formed a bulwark of community stability. Rich Blake's chronicle of a fallen hero and his steadfast faith, his loving family and a miraculous moment, does not attempt to overanalyze events; in true journalistic fashion, the book simply lets its subjects testify to the power of the greatest and noblest of all virtues.

- Mary McWay Seaman



Rights by Stealth: The Role of UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies in the Campaign for an International Right to Abortion. White Paper Series, Number Eight.  By Douglas Sylva and Susan Yoshihara. Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (download from www.c-fam.org or write to: Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, 866 First Ave., Ste. 495, New York NY 10017). 41 pages. $2.95.

The series of White Papers published by Austin Ruse at the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), all meticulously researched and footnoted, provide a much-needed window into the inner workings of the Culture of Death. The recent Rights by Stealth (2008) shows how a strategy to turn "abortion rights" into binding international law has been unleashed under the auspices of the UN. Even though no UN treaty on human rights has ever mentioned the right to abortion, Colombia's highest court, when it recently legalized abortion, declared that UN treaties on human rights required that women have the right to abortion. How did radical feminism worm its way into the core of international law? By stealth. A deceptive strategy was drawn up at a 1996 meeting in Glen Cove, N.Y., called, in UN-style gobbledygook, "Roundtable of Human Rights Treaty Bodies on Human Rights Approaches to Women's Health, With a Focus on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights."

At that momentous Round­table, it was resolved to circumvent "the purposefully lengthy and laborious international process involved in recognizing new rights." Among those attending that meeting were members of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) -- the UN's chief agency for population control -- and some non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR), and members of the six UN committees that monitor progress on human rights. They all agreed to collaborate in reinterpreting human-rights treaties. Without grassroots support for their endeavor, but with funding from U.S. foundations, they hoped to accomplish their goal of underhandedly incorporating a radical ideology into binding international treaties. They would compel reluctant nations to adopt things like the sexual autonomy of children, the redefinition of family and marriage, and the right to abortion. Their strategy would work well because of environmental concerns and because its population-control agenda was carefully hidden under the language of international health.

The Roundtable's stealth strategy was to rely heavily on the work of the six "compliance committees" -- such as the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) -- used by the UN to monitor progress on human rights. Governments would produce reports for these compliance committees, receive recommendations from them, and make follow-up reports. At the Roundtable, it was resolved to promote the right to "reproductive and sexual health" by turning the "hard law" of UN treaties into "evolving obligations" -- the words evolution and evolving actually appear in the Roundtable Report. It was also decided to integrate into the human-rights treaties the "outcome documents" of the UN conferences at Cairo and Beijing in 1994 and 1995, both dealing with sexual and reproductive "rights." These documents from Cairo and Beijing had none of the legal standing of the voted-upon treaties, but never mind, they were to be used to reinterpret binding international treaties as if they were "an official consensus of the world community" and had "identified new dimensions for the interpretation and implementation of the human rights treaties." The discovery of new dimensions in UN treaties strangely evokes the U.S. Supreme Court's discovery of a penumbra in our Constitution.

To make sure the strategy would succeed, the Roundtable promised financial support for the NGOs, so-called experts who have nearly permanent appointments and are "unaccountable" to anyone because they are simply independent "watchdogs and enforcers of committee recommendations." One such NGO is the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), with 45 members and a $10 million annual budget, found­ed in 1992 by lawyers connected to the ACLU. One of its largest donors is the population-controller UNFPA, and it also receives the benefactions of the Hewlett-Packard, Buffett, Ford, and MacArthur foundations. Memos from a strategy session in 2003 reveal that in pursuance of the Roundtable's stealth strategy, CRR "intends to reinterpret almost every major internationally recognized human right to include a right to abortion, and then fight for that reinterpretation to become the definitive one." It also envisions using "rulings" by treaty-monitoring bodies, legally "soft norms," as "authoritative interpretations" of established treaties, so that such "new customary international law" will become "hard" law "binding on recalcitrant countries."

Another NGO, the International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC), admits that human-rights treaties and even the conferences at Cairo and Beijing recognize "the sovereignty of governments in determining national laws and policies," but nevertheless asserts that these documents, "broadly interpreted and skillfully argued," can become "tools" to expand abortion rights. The sophistry here is bold and brazen. In 2006 a UN handbook for new diplomats stated that the CEDAW treaty, called the Women's Convention, adopted by 182 nations in 1979, is "the only human rights treaty to affirm the reproductive rights of women." In fact, that treaty does not even mention "reproductive rights" or "reproductive health," which shows how sophistic "interpretation" can supplant the actual words of UN treaties.

Today a "mutually reinforcing network" of UN officials -- agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) that pushes for abortion rights, committees, and NGOs (both local and international) -- are in active collusion to turn the Culture of Death into coercive international law. In the decade since the Roundtable took place in New York, nations have been continually intimidated into granting abortion "rights" as if they were obligated to do so by UN treaties. Little wonder that when it legalized abortion, the Constitutional Court of Colombia declared that it had to do so because of "the recommendations made by the international authorities" charged with seeing that Colombia complied with the UN Women's Convention. Evidently, news of the 1996 Roundtable and its plan for a "stealth strategy" resulting in just such a misunderstanding had not reached the judges in Colombia.

Rights by Stealth is a first-rate study. The other eight White Papers published by C-FAM since 2001 are equally deserving of kudos. They examine such topics as the UNFPA, the Children's Fund, and the World Bank. The most recent, by Maciej Golubiewski, is on the European Union's nefarious attempts to regulate morality. How busy today are the children of darkness!

- Anne Barbeau Gardiner



Marriages, Shack-Ups, and Other Disasters: How Choice Pollution Has Screwed Us All Up .  By Kurt Meyer. Book Surge Publishing. 228 pages. $16.99.

There is perhaps no greater buzzword in the culture of modernity than "choice." The freedom to choose is joined by similar outworn clichés like "diversity" and "open-minded­ness" as the philological foundation for our self-centered society. But with all the choices comes chaos. The sheer volume of lifestyle options available in today's culture is gnawing away at social stability and wrecking the social network. Thus argues psychologist Kurt Meyer in his book Marriages, Shack-Ups, and Other Disasters: How Choice Pollution Has Screwed Us All Up.

Meyer gives a brief overview of how all the modern lifestyle options slowly evolved. The world's traditional religions, primarily Catholicism, had governed social norms up until the Enlightenment. The twin revolutions of the late 18th century in France and in the U.S. placed man's ability to chart his own destiny ahead of the old mores. Society still retained certain traditional underpinnings until the social revolution of the 1960s spawned an array of new lifestyle choices and launched the "anything-goes agenda."

Today, anything goes. Meyer counts no less than eight different modern lifestyle groupings, from the individualist to the socialist, from the technocrat to the Christian. Along with choosing one's lifestyle comes the perceived need to choose one's own reality. "Today's reality is loaded with so many possibilities that make it virtually impossible to stay on top of all the choices," Meyer writes. And with this new privately chosen reality comes an increase in self-righteousness, as people seek to impose their own versions of reality on others. The author lists five different fallacies that corrupt these private realities. Ironically, one of them is a "false lack of choice." Meyer shows how individuals become obsessed with having to get what is highly advertised and popular, and consequently lose the very "freedom to choose" that they once exalted so highly.

Having laid out the societal problem in the first part of the book, the second part of Marriages, Shack-Ups, and Other Disasters deals with the tools to start repairing one's social network. The excess of lifestyle choices has made it harder for people to interact with one another, and Meyer offers tips for conflict-management. He describes a technique called "Verbatim Therapy," which involves finding the emotional as well as the objective truth of a situation and opening the lines of dialogue. Meyer also instructs readers not to avoid conflict, citing a plaque on his desk that states, "The only way around a problem is through it." Avoiding a problem means suppressing anger, and suppressed anger will eventually find its expression, though often in unpredictable circumstances. Catholic readers might see in Meyer's advice the need to take up the Cross of life's small problems and "go through" their own mini-Calvarys in order to find real peace.

The author goes on to lay the groundwork for building strong relationships and minces no words in his embrace of the traditional family with a stay-at-home mother: "Nothing has been designed to improve on this arrangement." He also critiques homosexual parenting, noting the difficulty of children in such an environment learning proper sex roles in a normal relationship.

The final chapters of Meyer's book include intriguing dialogues based on his concept of Verbatim Therapy. Meyers offers ten different examples of couples fighting over a variety of issues. At key points in the argument the author inserts a "reality check." Then the confrontation resumes with each party presumably a little wiser. A few of the topics are obviously geared toward the yuppie culture, such as the burning debate over whether a wife can get her own Lexus, or a San Francisco Bay Area couple battling it out over the purchase of a marble fountain for the yard. But even within these examples there are useful tidbits for conflict-management, and other examples address issues more pertinent for traditional Catholics.

Meyer's book focuses on dealing with reality as it is rather than attempting to change it. Yet one can't help but see the story of the Tower of Babel play out in its pages. Modernity, having turned away from God and the Church, is left with so many different lifestyles that no one speaks the same tongue anymore. The ideas contained in Marriages, Shack-Ups and Other Disasters won't reverse that problem, but they can make coping with the fallout a little bit easier.

- Dan Flaherty





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