Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Why I took my girls trick-or-treating

Ok, I said I wasn't going to, but they were so sad to see the big bowl of candy sitting out that we pulled out their ballet outfits, fished out some stockings, put up hair, and went out. Noogs had a pumpkin bucket for candy, and Babs, not wanting to share, found a beach bag. They're very small -- 3 1/2 and 2 -- so we took a big lantern with us and only covered half a block.

Here's my observations on my first trick-or-treating expedition with my own children (as opposed to my siblings):
1) Don't go to houses without the porch light on. I know this, of course, but I acted against it to stop at the house of some people we knew, and the girls were sad to find that there was no candy to be had there. Oh well.
2) If you open the door with a scary mask on, be prepared for small girls to shriek and sob. The flip side: don't allow your child to answer the door if you can't see if the person on the other side has a scary mask.
3) The leotard may be oh-so-cute but it's going to have to be under the sweater because the breeze is chill. This is one I remember from my own days of dressing as a ballerina and having to wear a thick jacket.
4) It's the best thing in the world to knock on a door to trick-or-treat and have it opened by Daddy!

Darwin fondly recalls the stegosaurus costume that his mother made him one year. This being Los Angeles, it was 100 degrees, but he wore that hot, heavy costume anyway. The youth have a resolve of steel about some things.

And true to my predictions, I'm sitting here eating Noogs' SweeTarts, snitched from her pumpkin when she wasn't looking.

We don't want to be socialists anyway!

Sharon at Opinionated Homeschooler (who, I believe, is a fellow Austinite) has a great post about that question all homeschoolers face: What about socialization?
Whenever a new acquaintance discovers that you homeschool, don't you cringe or stiffen just a little bit in anticipation of the question: What about socialization? Now more frequently asked with genuine interest (perhaps your interlocutor is considering homeschooling), occasionally with geniune concern for your children's wellbeing, irritatingly often with the air of "Here's why what you're doing is so wrong."

My favorite incident was the pediatrician who grilled me incessantly on why homeschooled kids couldn't be getting enough you-know-what, and she could never homeschool because (as she mentioned several times) her own child was so very social and friendly. Never mind the obnoxious implication that my own children must be introverted antisocial hermits; at the time of the interrogation, I was a captive audience in a hospital bed, having just had a c-section, trying to get an hours-old infant to latch on properly, and really not feeling up to the full-court defense being called for. Maybe she figured she only had a limited time to make sure I didn't repeat my awful educational mistake with this new child.

Volumes have been written on the s-word. Robert Reich, he of the mandatory two-week reeducation camps for homeschooled kids, is all about the s-word; he just has a fancy name ("ethical servility") and a theory that would permit government intrusion into the most private matters of personal belief and childrearing. But boiled down, it's just "they can't really be socialized, can they?"

No volumes here; just a few scattered thoughts that have occured to me over the years.
Read the whole thing. I think she hits the nail on the head.

Also, thanks to Sharon, I've discovered the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas! Join me in signing up today!

Punctuated equilibrium

In case you're wondering why daytime posting has been light from me Friday and today, I am experiencing the corporate version of punctuated equilibrium: Just as you are a terribly successful little life form, happy in your own niche, all of the selection criteria change, and you suddenly need to adapt to new circumstances or become extinct.

I don't think there's any danger of my extinction, but survival is right now a rather consuming business. In other words, I've been busy.

Nonetheless, I hope I can promise to have interesting posts coming back up in the near future. Among other things, I picked up a copy of Married to the Church on Amazon, after seeing it referred to in an essay by Michael Liccione. I can tell that theologically I have nothing in common with the author (he's an ex-seminarian who as far as I can tell is no longer Catholic) but the format of the book (interviews with the 21 priests from his seminary class (ordained in 1969) about their lives in the priesthood promises some interesting insights both into the priesthood and into the generation which, to put it overly simplistically, messed everything up.

I'm also awaiting a copy of John Farrell's new book The Day Without Yesterday, about priest and physicist Georges Lemaitre who was instrumental in formulating the Big Bang theory.

Why I don't take my girls trick-or-treating

No, it's not for any reactionary dislike of Halloween. It's because they're too young for so much candy, and then I'd end up eating lots of it after they went to bed. And I'm trying to watch my girlish figure -- both of them, actually.

Of course, we already had to buy a new bag of candy to replace the one that was snacked on for the past week.

Alito nominated

President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court this morning. National Review is ecstatic. Here's Bench Memos so you can do your homework on what sounds like a fantastic nominee. Good work, W! You flubbed it with the Miers nomination, but you've just rallied the conservatives again.



The Cross Halls

8:01 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I'm pleased to announce my nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Alito is one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America, and his long career in public service has given him an extraordinary breadth of experience.

As a Justice Department official, federal prosecutor and judge on the United States Court of Appeals, Sam Alito has shown a mastery of the law, a deep commitment of justice, and a — and he is a man of enormous character. He's scholarly, fair-minded and principled, and these qualities will serve our nation well on the highest court of the land.

Judge Alito showed great promise from the beginning in studies at Princeton and Yale Law School; as editor of the Yale Law Journal; as a clerk for a federal court of appeals judge. He served in the Army Reserves and was honorably discharged as a captain. Early in his career, Sam Alito worked as a federal prosecutor and handled criminal and civil matters for the United States. As assistant to the solicitor general, he argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, and has argued dozens of others before the federal courts of appeals.

He served in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel providing constitutional advice for the President and the executive branch. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan named him the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, the top prosecutor in one of the nation's largest federal districts, and he was confirmed by unanimous consent by the Senate. He moved aggressively against white-collar and environmental crimes, and drug trafficking, and organized crime, and violation of civil rights.

In his role, Sam Alito showed a passionate commitment to the rule of law, and he gained a reputation for being both tough and fair. In 1990, President Bush nominated Sam Alito, at the age of 39, for the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Judge Alito's nomination received bipartisan support and he was again confirmed by unanimous consent by the United States Senate. Judge Alito has served with distinction on that court for 15 years and now has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years.

Judge Alito's reputation has only grown over the span of his service. He has participated in thousands of appeals and authored hundreds of opinions. This record reveals a thoughtful judge who considers the legal matter — marriage carefully and applies the law in a principled fashion. He has a deep understanding of the proper role of judges in our society. He understands that judges are to interpret the laws, not to impose their preferences or priorities on the people.

In the performance of his duties, Judge Alito has gained the respect of his colleagues and attorneys for his brilliance and decency. He's won admirers across the political spectrum. I'm confident that the United States Senate will be impressed by Judge Alito's distinguished record, his measured judicial temperament, and his tremendous personal integrity. And I urge the Senate to act promptly on this important nomination so that an up or down vote is held before the end of this year.

Today, Judge Alito is joined by his wife, Martha, who was a law librarian when he first met her. Sam and I both know you can't go wrong marrying a librarian. Sam and Martha's two children, Phil and Laura, are also with us, and I know how proud you are of your dad today. I'm sure, as well, that Judge Alito is thinking of his mom, Rose, who will be 91 in December. And I know he's thinking about his late father. Samuel Alito, Sr., came to this country as an immigrant child from Italy in 1914, and his fine family has realized the great promise of our country.

Judge, thanks for agreeing to serve, and congratulations on your nomination.

JUDGE ALITO: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am deeply honored to be nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, and I am very grateful for the confidence that you have shown in me.

The Supreme Court is an institution that I have long held in reverence. During my 29 years as a public servant, I've had the opportunity to view the Supreme Court from a variety of perspectives — as an attorney in the Solicitor General's Office, arguing and briefing cases before the Supreme Court, as a federal prosecutor, and most recently for the last 15 years as a judge of the Court of Appeals. During all of that time, my appreciation of the vital role that the Supreme Court plays in our constitutional system has greatly deepened.

I argued my first case before the Supreme Court in 1982, and I still vividly recall that day. I remember the sense of awe that I felt when I stepped up to the lectern. And I also remember the relief that I felt when Justice O'Connor — sensing, I think, that I was a rookie — made sure that the first question that I was asked was a kind one. I was grateful to her on that happy occasion, and I am particularly honored to be nominated for her seat.

My most recent visit to the Supreme Court building was on a very different and a very sad occasion: It was on the occasion of the funeral of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. And as I approached the Supreme Court building with a group of other federal judges, I was struck by the same sense of awe that I had felt back in 1982, not because of the imposing and beautiful building in which the Supreme Court is housed, but because of what the building, and, more importantly, the institutions stand for — our dedication as a free and open society to liberty and opportunity, and, as it says above the entrance to the Supreme Court, "equal justice under law."

Every time that I have entered the courtroom during the past 15 years, I have been mindful of the solemn responsibility that goes with service as a federal judge. Federal judges have the duty to interpret the Constitution and the laws faithfully and fairly, to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans, and to do these things with care and with restraint, always keeping in mind the limited role that the courts play in our constitutional system. And I pledge that if confirmed I will do everything within my power to fulfill that responsibility.

I owe a great deal to many people who have taught me over the years about the law and about judging, to judges before whom I have appeared, and to colleagues who have shown me with their examples what it means to be a fair and conscientious and temperate judge.

I also owe a great deal, of course, to the members of my family. I wish that my father had lived to see this day. He was an extraordinary man who came to the United States as a young child, and overcame many difficulties and made many sacrifices so that my sister and I would have opportunities that he did not enjoy.

As the President mentioned, my mother will be celebrating her 91st birthday next month. She was a pioneering and very dedicated public school teacher who inspired my sister and me with a love of learning. My wife, Martha, has been a constant source of love and support for the past 20 years. My children, Philip and Laura, are the pride of my life and they have made sure that being a judge has never gone to my head — they do that very well on a, pretty much, daily basis. And my sister, Rosemary, has always been a great friend and an inspiration as a great lawyer, and as a strong and independent person.

I look forward to working with the Senate in the confirmation process. Mr. President, thank you, once again, for the confidence that you've shown in me and for honoring me with this nomination.

Time Change

Well, the Darwins missed the time change and showed up an hour early for Mass on Sunday morning. We felt "off" for the rest of the day. However, the girls retired for the evening by 8 PM, feeling like they'd pulled one over Mom and Dad by staying up 'til 9. Har.

Note to everyone else: set your clocks back already!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Marriage Has Been Arranged

Speculative Catholic links to a post by The Dawn Treader asking whether arranged marriages might be saner and result in less divorces than the current American standard.

Goodness knows, I'm not pleased with the general state of marriage in America, but I can't say I'm terribly impressed with the idea of arrange marriages. I've read some fairly detailed suggestions (most of them from very conservative Protestant types who figure its Biblical -- but given the political and cultural synergies between conservative Protestants and Catholics these days, I suppose one must expect the occasional bad idea to get shared along with the good ones) in regards to bringing back arranged marriages, as well as the various theories of "Christian Courtship".

Now in part, I'm struck by the fact that if arranged marriage were the norm, MrsDarwin and I would never have got together. Not that her family dislikes me or mine her, but rather that we're from different states and our families never met till after we were engaged, though we met each other's families. Nor can I imagine either one of us would have wanted to be married off to anyone in our family's respective social circles.

I think the problem which proponents of arranged marriage have correctly identified (and honestly, I'm not really sure anyone is all that serious about the idea) is that many people in the wider culture and in Catholicism have made the leap from "if it my responsibility to find someone I love to marry" to "if I no longer love the person I'm married do, it's my responsibility to 'fix' the situation".

The very nature of an arranged marriage, on the other hand, underlines the fact that: You're now married to this person, you might as well make the best of it.

Nonetheless, the solution doesn't seem to be to cease to make marriage partner selection the business of the partners themselves, but rather the reinforce an understanding that although marriage is a state voluntarily entered into, it is not an 'at will' state. You freely choose to get yourself into it, but you don't afterwards have the latitude to freely choose something else.

The Desire to Bear Arms

Last night I had cause to go to the Sportsman's Warehouse that opened near us some few months ago. It was mostly a curiosity visit -- the item I was actually looking for fell into a category they turned out not to stock. For although it is described as being for 'sportsmen', the sports in question are pretty strictly fishing, hunting and camping.

Fishing holds no particular fascination for me. Not even the prose of Izaak Walton can inspire an interest in standing around for hours waiting for the nibble of a cold-blooded ictheiod -- not that there's any other kind.

I did my share of camping as a boy scout, but I must confess that I am not in a huge hurry to get back into the great outdoors overnight in the near future. My mother used to call camping "the same as housekeeping, but under more difficult conditions". I may not be a full time professional in the housekeeping arena (I slip off to relax in an office for 10-11 hours a day where I can lark among relational databases and marketing metrics) but I now feel a great sympathy for her comment.

So I moved quickly through the fishing and camping areas to the back of the store, and what unfolded around me was a veritable garden of male delights. I refer, of course, to weapons.

If you do not experience it yourself, I am not sure I can explain to you the hold that knives, guns, bows and all things dangerous hold upon my mind. The bow, of course, is a noble instrument, dating back farther in our history than writing, rice pudding or income tax. Guns are perhaps no more pleasurable to use than bows, but they infinitely more fascinating, since they combine the joy of a complicated yet elegant mechanical construction with noise and destructive power.

I was ten when, after much pleading and a parentally mandated independent study of all issues related to gun safety, I received my first air rifle. So I inspected the air rifles and found that not only are there more varieties than I had available seventeen years ago, but also that to my adult wallet they are wonderfully cheap.

At fourteen I built from a kit a fully functional Remington-style (circa 1868) black powder revolver. (Black powder guns, at least back then, were not considered fire arms and could thus be purchased by a minor.) It had a twelve inch barrel, a wonderful slow, arching recoil, and concealed you behind a large cloud of pungent smoke when fired. (Which wasn't very often since it took a good five minutes to load all six chambers.)

Sportsman's Warehouse had a good variety of black powder guns and supplies as well. They've come a long way in the last thirteen years, including fascinating inventions like pelletized black powder substitute (less smoke, plus you can care a little case of the pellet rather than horn of loose powder) and plastic jacketed copper plated bullets (no idea what the point of them is). In addition to a decent range of replicas of models from the 1700s and 1800s they had a wide range of modern-style black powder rifles -- apparently for the black powder hunting set.

In the year between when we got married and when Princess Noogs was born, I bought a .22 semi-automatic target pistol. At the time, I was working an office job from 8-5 and MrsDarwin was stage managing from 4pm-11pm, so I had plenty of free time in the evenings and an indoor shooting range right down the street from work.

Back in California, handguns are a disreputable commodity, which cannot be found at a sporting goods store. You need to go to a gun store, past the cement and steel barricades to keep potential robbers from crashing a vehicle through the store window, take a test to show you know which end of the weapon to point, wait until the next ice age just to make sure that you're not buying your .22 for a (low caliber) crime of passion, etc., etc. Not so here in Texas, it seems. Beyond the dense ranks of rifles and shotguns, there was an entire wall covered with hand guns, ranging from expensive, more expensive, to really, really dang expensive. (In case you've ever considered buying a handgun to commit a crime, be advised you're not going to spend less than about $500 for a 9mm, .45, or even a revolver, and you can easily spend >$1000. If it's just a quick crime of passion, rather than assassinating the bi-metalist prime minister, I suggest you go third world and use a machete instead.)

At this point, I realized that hanging around any longer would only increase the temptation to resume expensive hobbies, so I vacated the premises. But I've decided that the Darwin family will have to someday yield a male heir, so that I can train my son in the manly arts of weaponry. I could, of course, train the girls to shoot (the cat is hopeless, and I don't trust him anyway), but I would do so with some trepidation. Having three beautiful daughters is likely to provide enough headaches. Allowing them to enjoy male hobbies such as shooting would turn them into veritable Helens (Doubtless Helen truly captured Paris' affection by professing an interest in skeet shooting or car mechanics or rugby, at which point, who can blame him?), and you know what kind of trouble that can cause.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Whom To Choose

From the Back Pew offers a little story in which Jesus takes a page out of standard PR practice and "floats" his pick for a leader for the apostles to get a little feeback

“I suppose. Maybe I should put an X through his name. But Thomas, now he’s no follower.”

“Thomas? He’s so negative and cynical. He keeps saying things like “Prove it.”

“Hmm. You have a point. Of course, he is intelligent.”

“So is Matthew, but who’d listen to him.”


“Yes. He was a tax collector. I know he reformed and we’re supposed to forgive and all, but still, some don’t trust him.”

“Who doesn’t trust him?”

“Judas, for one.”

“Ah, yes, Judas. Sharp fellow.”

“Judas? Yes. Everyone respects him. You can count on him to get things done.”

“True, Judas has everyone’s trust.”

“I guess if you have to pick anyone, Judas would be a good one. He’s smart. He’s good with money. You get a sense he knows what he’s doing.”

Jesus chuckled.

“Not like Simon,” he said. “He means well, but …”

John laughed.

“Poor Simon. He keeps messing up. And there’s that mother-in-law of his. Oy! Oh, he tries hard, and everybody likes him, but he’s not the brightest fellow.”

“I like the fact that he acts with his heart and not just his head,” Jesus said.

“Head? Sometimes I think he has rocks in his head.”

Jesus nodded and smiled.

“Rocks? Interesting description.”

“If you want my advice, Judas is your man,” John said.

Jesus sighed. “Yes, I think Judas is capable of playing a bigger role.”

“As for Simon,” John added, “well, heaven only knows what he’ll end up doing.”

Friday, October 28, 2005


Posting has been light from the distaff side of the Darwin entity because of the blossoming abilities of Noogs and Babs. There's a saying in Cincinnati: "If you don't like the weather, stick around five minutes; it'll change." Here at the Darwin household, if you're unsatisfied with the freshly-cleaned living room, just stay upstairs for five minutes. Upon returning to the lower regions, you'll find Babs sitting under a table in the living room eating flour out of the bag with a spoon. Check the kitchen and you'll see that she dropped the bag from the second highest pantry shelf to ensure that the largest mess possible was created. She enjoys this activity so much that's she's tried it three times in the past week. Much to my amazement, I've discovered that the chain on the pantry door only keeps the girls out when I remember to fasten it. Who knew?

So whenever I sit down to check my email or start writing a blog post, I find the house in a bit more shambles than it was before.l

We have our lighter moments, though. Last night at dinner, Noogs (sitting by the window) was fascinated by a gecko which suddenly pounced on a moth. She gave a running commentary as the gecko crunched up the moth bit by bit. "Look, Mommy, Mr. Gecko is eating that moth! he is eating it all up!" It seems no one had ever told the gecko that it is the course of wisdom never to eat anything larger than your head. Darwin and I were put quite off our feed by this spectacle, but Noogs and Babs were delighted and proceeded to smear ketchup around with a will. I'm glad they're not traumatized by witnessing the circle of life in action.

Meanwhile, Smaskig continues to grow and kick. Pushing into my sixth month, the charm of being pregnant has worn off. She's on a growth spurt and has started a campaign to expand the borders of her territory. She doesn't like to negotiate for more room, however; she invades and then offers me terms of surrender that dictate how and when I can sleep, how often I go to the bathroom, how long I can stand up, and even what clothes I wear. Little tyrant! Just wait until she has to treat with the established princesses, and we'll see how long Smaskig can remain top dog.

On occasion the stars are aligned and everyone is either peaceable or asleep at the same time. Then the house becomes a small garden of delights. At those moments I think that if only there were some cookies around here life would be perfect.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Off The Tracks

Peggy Noonan has an interesting piece in the WSJ today which is basically about how she has the general feeling that the trolly is off the tracks, and everyone knows it at some level, but sees the problem as too big to deal with and is just enjoying things while they can, and waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.

I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, "I got mine, you get yours."
Hard to say. When does a cultural or political system reach the point where instead of a number of single problems that need to be dealt with, it has instead an overwhelming load of interconnected problems that will, sooner or later, result in collapse or revolution? Did the Western Empire in Augustine's day know that the world was changing? Could they smell it in the air, feel it in the earth, and taste it in the water?

Or is it just more of the same?

The Consequences of Evil

Perhaps you've heard of the flap up in Sacramento where Bishop Weigand told Loretto High School to dismiss a drama teacher who had been actively serving as a Planned Parenthood "Pro-Choice Escort" at an abortion clinic up until at most a few weeks before beginning work at the school. Apparently during the six weeks or so she was working at the high school she became 'a beloved teacher' in the eyes of some of the students, and some members of the "Loretto Community" have been arguing that it's unacceptable and closed-minded to fire someone "because of her beliefs" -- especially considering that she hadn't volunteered at the clinic since beginning her employment and she did not (so far as anyone knows) openly advocate abortion in the classroom.

This got me thinking about natural law vs. positive law and the extent to which we feel it appropriate to hold people accountable for violations of the moral law which are not violations of legal statute.

In the wake of WWII, we and our allies came down clearly on the side of a form of universal natural law when we tried Nazi war criminals for "crimes against humanity" -- the which crimes were in no way crimes under the laws in force in Germany at the time they were committed. In effect, we said that some actions are so clearly wrong that someone can be held accountable (even executed) for committing them even if the crimes were allowed or encouraged by the legal system governing the perpetrator. We rejected the most extreme form of legal positivism and endorsed a measure of natural law. As the trial of Saddam Hussein goes on in Baghdad, we must assume that these ideals are still to some extent held, but here and internationally.

But play a thought experiment with me for a moment: Imagine that a year from now, due to some near miraculous change in national opinion, a Human Life amendment is passed asserting that unborn children are (from the time of conception) protected by the constitution and that abortion is illegal, as a form of homicide. Would we demand that Nuremburg style trials be held for the heads of Planned Parenthood and NARAL and for individual abortionists?

Certainly some people would. You can count on at least some people to do almost anything. However, I think the vast majority of reasonable and faithful pro-life advocates (including me) would settle for abolishing abortion and allow an amnesty for those who performed abortions before the ban. Is this a matter of caving to a positivistic approach to morality and law? Would I, in supporting an amnesty, be taking essentially the same position as the critics of Bishop Weigand who say, "I oppose abortion, but I don't think we should fire someone just because she disagrees with us on this issue"?

I would argue that aborting an unborn child at 8 weeks is morally identical to walking up to an eight-year-old and shooting her in the face with a 9mm. However, I also think that aborting an eight-week-old is less obviously evil than shooting an eight-year-old to the unformed conscience. Thus, I think mercy would demand that those involved in abortion prior to a ban not be tried for their crimes. And indeed, I imagine that justice and mercy would demand that the punishment for abortion (even if explicitly illegal) would not be the same as for shooting a defenseless grade schooler -- again on the basis that the act, while equally wrong, is not as obviously wrong to a malformed conscience.

As to the case at Loretto High School, I think the bishop clearly did the right thing -- though I hope that someone in diocesan HR made sure the termination was done in such a way as to make legal action on the teacher's part impossible. While the teacher in question may be less culpable for her actions than a prison camp guard, her actions are equally wrong. And for the very reason that a proper understanding of the evil of abortion requires a well formed conscience, it is doubly important that a person of her convictions not be set up as an example or role model for still impressionable students -- who (Catholic schools being what they are these days) are probably getting a none-too-clear introduction to Catholicism as it is.

Miers Withdraws

I headed over to the Wall Street Journal's website to pull a story about Philip Morris Company developing an inhaler, only to find that the top story of the day is that Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination to the Supreme Court. I was a bit surprised, though I whole-heartedly support her decision. Perhaps she didn't expect the conservative furor over her nomination, though with such a scanty paper trail I think it shoud have been forseen. But I wish her well in her next endeavor, and hope that it will be far less of a public ordeal for her than the nomination process.

Now, Mr. Bush, if you'll give us someone like John Roberts again I think you'll see a lot less uproar the third time around.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Advent Calendar

Years ago, my dad's cousin made us an Advent calendar. It was a felt tree appliqued onto a large piece of burlap, speckled with snaps. Below were twenty-four pockets which held the felt ornaments. At the beginning of Advent my siblings and I would convene to decide which ornament would grace which day -- the star always went to the twenty-fourth day and was snapped onto the top of the tree, and my sister, who was the fourth, always got to put it up.

This year I thought it would be nice to have the calendar for my girls, as they're getting old enough to understand Advent as period of waiting and preparing for Christmas. I called up my family (my packrat sister in particular) to ask if they would send it to me, but alas, it is no more!

About two years ago the top story of my father's house caught fire due to faulty electrical wiring. (This sort of thing happens when your house is approaching its century.) No one was hurt, thank God, but the third floor and most of its contents were totaled. My brothers, 25 and 23, both had rooms up there and ended up mostly stuffless, but as they're currently studying for the priesthood you could look at it as the beginning of their lives of renunciation and poverty.

Insurance put up my dad and younger siblings in a downtown apartment for most of the school year -- ironic as my family's house is blocks from the school my two youngest siblings attend -- and covered the repairs to the third floor and roof and other affected areas. So after a rough year, dad's house looks better than ever and has up-to-date wiring in the attic.

Which is all fine, except that the Advent calendar was stored in a closet upstairs and perished either in the fire or at the cleaner. It's sad to think that my girls won't be able to enjoy such a delightful experience from my childhood, though of course since they have no memory of the calendar it doesn't affect them in the least.

The Married Priest Question

The other day Fr. Martin Fox had up a very good post, which we linked to, on practical consideration regarding the possibility of allowing married priests. When one of the commentors challenged his assertion that mainline Protestants have a major clergy shortage as well, I started doing some googling, and found some interesting articles that perhaps shed a little more light on the problems that a widespread use of married priests in the Roman Rite would cause.

This 2003 article from Christian Century provides some good information. Here's a USA Today piece that Fr. Fox cited.

In sum, Protestants do not have a clergy shortage. However, they do have a lot of churches without ministers.

In the denominations often designated as liberal the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)--roughly 20 percent of churches lack clergy (according to Yearbook data). The "moderate" mainline denominations--including the United Methodist Church, various Lutheran denominations, the Disciples of Christ, the American Baptist Churches and the Reformed Church--show a 10 percent vacancy rate. The conservative denominations, which have among the highest numbers of clergy per member, also have the highest proportions of employed clergy per church. The data from these denominations--including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of the Nazarene and the Assemblies of God--suggest that there are 1.4 working clergy per church. (Anecdotally, however, officials in these denominations believe that there are still empty pulpits out there, and they estimate the percentage to be between 4 and 6 percent.) [source]
And yet the ratio of ordained Protestant clergy to congregations in the country is 2:1. Liberal denominations have both a high vacancy rate (significantly higher, actually, than for Catholic parishes) and a lot of unemployed clergy.

The problem seems to be that while there are a lot of ordained clergy, many of the openings are only marginably able to support a minister. The PCUSA reports that 50% of their vacant churches have congregations of less than 100 adults, many of whom offer salaries in the 20k range for ministers. Many of these are also in rural areas, making it difficult for a minister supported by his or her spouse's job to fill the vacancy. Denominational polls of ordained Protestant clergy revealed very few were willing to go to rural areas, or in some cases to move at all, since in many cases they relied on a second job or a spouse's career to support their families.

One of the major contributing factors here is obviously the Protestant model for ordination in many denominations, where potential ministers will attend a seminary and be ordained, yet in essence be independent contractors hired by individual congregations, rather than reporting directly to the authority of a central hierarchy and being assigned wherever needed.

While clearly, if we had two priests for every parish in the US we would not have a clergy shortage, the nature of the Protestant 'shortage' shows us some of the problems we would invariably have if a married priesthood became widespread in the US. Transferring priests, especially to undesirable areas, would become much more difficult -- whether because the priest's wife had an established job where he was currently stationed or simply because he didn't want to take his family into an undesirable area. Married priests would have to be given much more independence than our current priests have, and celibate priests used to fill in the 'undesirable' slots, relegating celibate priests to what would look and feel a lot like a second class citizen status.

It would also be nearly guaranteed that we would have a higher percentage of 'drop-outs' among married priests. Between long hours, low pay and emotional stress, the priesthood would put a lot of strain on a priest's family, and (as with any other very stressful and consuming job) married priests would sometimes come to the conclusion that they either needed to change careers in order to save their marriages or take a few years off or part time. This works all right in most Protestant denominations, where the concept of the sacramental priesthood is not as strong or non-existent. But for Catholics, having a priest 'go inactive' or 'quit' is a much bigger deal. In the Catholic view, the priesthood is something you are, not something you do.

As I think about it, though, I can't help wondering if the argument over a married priesthood is actually something of a proxy fight over what sort of priests people envision as 'the right sort'. Catholics on the more conservative end of the spectrum tend to insist that a more conservative approach to theology, liturgy and vocations will increase vocations and point to places like the Lincoln diocese for evidence. More progressive Catholics tends to reply that in cases like the Lincoln diocese "the odds are good, but the goods are odd".

Now, the thing that few people seem to have brought up yet is that, to the extent that a widespread use of the married priesthood would be seen as a major shift in the progressive direction, it would probably dis-incent a lot of more conservative men from joining the priesthood. When you open a group previously open exclusively to one pool of members to other possible members, you change the joining patterns of the original source pool.

An anecdotal example: When I went to our parish grade school back in the late eighties and early nineties, about half the boys in the 4th through 8th grades were alter servers. It was still open only to boys, and the joining rate was pretty high. Not long after I went to high school, the instruction came down that girls could now be alter servers as well. The result was that the number of alter servers fell from around 100 to about 40. Why? The boys weren't as interested in something was was no longer exclusive to them, and not many girls were actually interested in being servers. Opening to the wider pool changed the behavior of the original pool of applications, so even though twice as many people were eligible to be alter servers, only half as many people actually joined.

Now, one would assume that people considering the priesthood are a good deal more mature in their reasoning than we alter boys were. And yet, there is the very strong possibility that opening the priesthood to married men would have the effect not of increasing the number of vocations, but of having the same or even a smaller number of vocations, but from a different group of people.

Obviously, one can have a married priesthood: the Eastern rites have done so for centuries. But today's Church is one already badly bruised by good changes implemented in a hamfisted fashion. My biggest fear in regards to the idea of opening the priesthood entirely to married men (as opposed to the small number of dispensations we currently have for converts) is that rather than increasing the number of vocations, it might deal the priesthood an even more grievous blow than it has experienced to date.

UPDATE: As I think about it, it seems like the non-destructive way to test the married priest idea in the West would be to allow an order or other non-diocesan confraternity to form made up only of married priests. This would avoid the two-layer priesthood that would doubtless form at the diocesan level with married priests, and the order or confraternity could be assigned to staff certain parishes in order to help keep parishes staffed. Bishops who didn't think it would be healthy to have married priests in their diocese could choose not to grant the order any parishes. And the nationwide or worldwide structure of the order would allow it to assure that it's priests were paid enough to support their families, or placed in cities where their wifes had work.

This would also allow the faithful to get used to the idea in a limitted setting, and allow the heirarchy to see if there was in fact a significant pool of married men interested in the priesthood -- and how they did as priests.

I'm not necessarily agitating for such an order, because, frankly, I don't think ordaining married priests in the Roman Rite would work all that well. But if it was going to be tried, I think that's how it should be done.

Habemus Papam!

I stumbled across this piece on the election of "Pope Pius XIII". It's funny, but also kind of sad...

God save us all from the rabbit holes dug by our own stubbornness.

However, if you are like me and take a sick pleasure in watching idiocy in action (kind of like watching a large man be knocked off a bridge by a high speed train into a river of treacle -- only in slow motion and more horrifying) check out Pope Pius XIII's apostolic letter on the subject of whether Novus Ordo baptism is valid. I advise you to at least read down to where he seriously considered the relative dimensions of the books tha the real Catholic Church and his own use...

And why does't this chap have the decency to write in Latin? If this lowly laymen worked his way through a semester of Latin Prose Comp, surely this "pope" can.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Shakespeare in ten

While checking our "who linked to us" links down on the right side, I noticed a new blog named Orthonormal Basis, who gives us props (thanks!). Courtesy of him, I found this ten minute version of Measure for Measure. This tickled me greatly, as I recall the production of Measure for Measure we did at FUS in my days there. (Technically, I wasn't involved with the show that semester, but Darwin and I did throw a kickin' cast party.) Anyway, here's a sample:
Lucio - Come with me now.
Isabel - What is your problem?
Lucio - Your brother's in the slammer.
Isabel - What is his problem?
Lucio - He slept with his girlfriend.
Isabel - Idiot.
N.B.--I was having trouble pulling up the permalink for the Measure for Measure. The second part is currently the top post, and the first part is a few posts down the page.

Brewing Like a Monk

Rick over at De Civitate Dei links to a story about the innauguration an American monastic brew.

The brothers at Northern New Mexico's Monastery of Christ in the Desert are reviving this tradition with the debut of their unpasteurized, classic Belgian-style abbey Monks' Ale ("Made with Care and Prayer!") after the holidays. With the development and guidance of American master brewer Brad Kraus of Santa Fe, the ale is being produced under contract in nearby Corrizozo, although a brewery is under construction at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery. Along with Christ in the Desert, the two orders have formed the Abbey Beverage Co. When completed, the Pecos site will be the first monastery brewery in the United States in more than 100 years.

"Part of the profits from the ale will go to the company, and thus, the monasteries," Kraus says. "This is a venture designed to enable the order to preserve their monastic way of life, by producing a traditional product."

The flagship Monks' Ale received a gold medal at the New Mexico State Fair's Pro-Am competition. A judge described it as redolent of "biscuit with honey, sweet in balance between malt and spice, fruity and bready, fading to a clean finish." Slated for later release are the silver medal-winning dubbel Prior's Ale, and Abbot's Tripel.
The article also links to the charming site BrewLikeAMonk.

If you enjoy quality beer, and you've never had a Trappist brew, you must. It starts at about $7.00 for a 750ml bottle, but it is worth every penny.

Evolution Meta Thread

While sitting unobtrusively in the back of a meeting, I put together a new meta-thread page with all the posts dealing with evolution and intelligent design. Should you find yourself similarly unoccupied and with to peruse it, it's up in the right sidebar by the Population & Ideology meta thread.


I've never posted any pictures, but I wanted to see if I could do it, so here is a picture of the famous can of pineapple from Three Men in a Boat. Thanks to Bernard Brandt for the link to the text and original illustrations:

Another Souter?

As people wonder if Miers will be "another Souter" an article on Legal Times piece by T. R. Goldman proposes that Bush's primary reason for picking Miers was precisely to avoid that result:

There are many reasons President George W. Bush could have decided not to pick White House Counsel Harriet Miers, a Dallas commercial litigator with a limited trial background and no judicial experience, to serve on the Supreme Court.

But there is at least one compelling reason he did: the 15-year shadow cast by Justice David Souter, a nominee touted by Bush's father as a staunch conservative -- who has turned out to be anything but.

"Miers is not going to 'go Souter' on him," notes Earl Maltz of the Rutgers University School of Law-Camden, using a pet phrase conservatives have coined for a justice who breaks left after joining the Court.

President George H.W. Bush never knew Souter; he relied on his chief of staff, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, to vouch for his fellow New Hampshirite's conservative credentials. Sununu's perception of Souter, whose constitutional paper trail was skimpy and who was viewed as the ultimate stealth candidate, was apparently blurry as well.

So intent is Bush on not repeating the sins of his father that he has risked accusations of both cronyism and political ineptitude in making his selection. "I've known Harriet for more than a decade," Bush explained while introducing Miers to the world, on Oct. 3. "I know her heart, I know her character," he added, about as sharp a reference to his father's choice of Souter as he could make.

He didn't stop there. The next day, in a Rose Garden press conference, Bush emphasized once again how long he'd known Miers and how their "closeness" allowed him to divine not just her character but, more important, her "strength of character," which Bush defined as "somebody who shares my philosophy today and will have that same philosophy 20 years from now."
The article goes on to describe the process of picking and vetting Souter, and interviews both Republicans and Democrats on their reactions to Souter during his hearings. The full article is well worth reading. Interestingly, a number of the Democrats interviewed say that they weren't at all surprised at how Souter turned out, that was precisely what they expected from his hearings. Other, such as Republican Senator and presidential advisor John Sununu insist that they were totally surprised.

The article doesn't clearly answer how Miers and Roberts will rule, but it's certainly an interesting view into how we were Soutered.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Intelligent Design Over-reaches

John Farrell has a post up on Behe's testimony in the ongoing Dover case (on whether Intelligent Design should be taught as science in public schools). Farrell criticizes Behe for likening Intelligent Design to the Big Bang Theory (because both initially faced rejection from scientists who objected for religious and philosophical reasons).

Having recently written a book on Georges Lemaitre, the priest/scientist who convinced Einstein of the accuracy of the Big Bang Theory, Farrell is clearly in a position to point out the differences between ID and the Big Bang. Although both represent large scale attempts to address the origins of the universe, one was clearly implicated by the laws of physics, while the other is at best a philosophical gloss on evolutionary theory.


Every now and then one encounters a book so outrageously funny that passers-by cast sympathetic glances at the reader, thinking that he's gone insane, when he's really just choking with helpless laughter. Such a book is Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. I've been re-reading it recently, and it's simply laugh-out-loud hilarious. It's the story of three lazy men (to say nothing of the dog) taking a boat trip down the River Thames , and in spite of being over 100 years old it's fresh and funny and rings true to anyone who's ever gone camping.

"Humor is oftener than not hardship recollected in tranquillity, or at least in dry clothes," states the introduction. How very true of this book! George, Harris, and J. have decided that they need a change of scene for their health, and hit upon the plan of living the simple life while boating down the Thames. The dog is dubious of the whole venture, but comes along in hopes of causing some trouble. Things go wrong, things go right, and many charming and philosophical observations are passed upon human behavior, English history, and the incompetency of everyone else.

And the incident with the can of pineapple never fails to make me guffaw.

Memory of the Crusades

I finally finished reading Thomas F. Madden's New Concise History of the Crusades last night, while MrsDarwin was finishing up the online version of John Derbyshire's novel.

One thing that struck me was his section at the end about the legacy of the crusades, which he splits into a section on the European legacy and the Arab legacy. He make s appoint which smells right to me, and so I'll summarize here since it doesn't seem like it's often discussed.

It's a common assertion that "the Middle East has a long memory" and that the region has been simmering against Europe ever since the crusades marked the beginning of European ascendancy and the beginning of Islamic decline. There are two problems with this view, however, the first is that the crusades were (in the long run) a strategic failure. The crusader states lasted less than two hundred years, and Jerusalem was only Christian for 88 years. Now, on the time scale of nations, that's not too bad. Two hundred years is a decent run. However, the crusades certainly didn't mark the beginning of Western expansion and imperialism. Far from it, after defeating the crusader states the Dar al-Islam went on to overrun the Byzantine empire, Greece, Eastern Europe and even besiege Vienna in the 16th century. It wasn't until the 17th century that it became clear that the Turks would not overrun Europe. So however offensive the crusades may have been to Muslim pride, they clearly did not mark the beginning of their cultural decline, but rather a brief pause in their expansion.

As to whether the crusades represented the beginning of a bitter struggle between East and West: it can hardly have been seen so at the time. Rather, it was one in a long series of wars between the Dar al-Islam and the Christian world. During the time that the crusader states existed, they were just one more piece of Middle Eastern political world: sometimes allied with the Byzantines, sometimes allied with one or another of the Islamic emirates.

Most interesting to me, though, was the question of when the crusades became 'an issue' in the Middle East. Madden argues that this didn't really happen until the 1800s, indeed, that the crusades were virtually forgotten in the Middle East until that point. In a sense, this is perfectly reasonable. From the Islamic point of view crusades represented a brief series of setbacks in the spread of Islam, but a temporary one. Indeed, the first Arab history of the crusades apparently wasn't written until 1899.

However, when the French, English and other colonial powers moved into the Middle East in the 19th century, some of them brought with them a rationalized and romanticized history of the crusades: one in which they represented the beginning of the great age of European colonialism. As colonials taught this version of history in Middle Eastern schools, the crusades became inextricably connected with Western colonialism in the minds of many Middle Eastern historians. And so as colonialism came to be seen as one of the principle evils of the 19th and 20th centuries, the crusades came to be seen as the bloody beginning of European colonialism. And so we have the state of Israel, the first Jewish state in nearly two millennia, being seen as a renewal of the crusader kingdoms, because it is (a doubtless unintended) a legacy of Europe's colonial adventures in the region.

One final note, apparently Saladin was a relative unknown in Arab history up until the colonial period. Perhaps not surprisingly. Saladin was a Kurd (to this day an unpopular group in the region) and his successors quickly fell into civil war, allowing the crusader states to roll back most of his victories. Up until fairly recently, the Arab hero of the crusades who attained folkloric status was not Saladin but Baybars, who defeated the Mongols and pushed back the crusader states some 75 years after the time of Saladin. Saladin re-entered the Middle Eastern popular history of the crusades through the European understanding of him: as a chivalrous opponent of Richard of England and Philip of France.

A priest analyzes

Fr. Martin Fox at Bonfire of the Vanities has posted a list of considerations for those who believe that married priests are the necessary remedy to whatever ails the Church. This is a great post from one who knows the territory and life of a parish priest.

Father points out that divorce is a problem among the Protestant clergy. I recall hearing the late Fr. Al Lauer, the priest who founded Presentation Ministries, saying that he had once been one of the few Catholic priests to attend an ecumenical pastors' conference. He mentioned that many ministers came up to him and told him that they could understand and appreciate Rome's ban on married clergy because of the scandal of divorce and marital problems in their own denominations. This from the mouths of married men...

One of the commenters asks: "My only question about the "viri probati" was, where are all these married men so anxious to serve the church in ordained ministry?" An apt question, indeed.


Aw, gee, I feel like I've been invited to play with the big kids now -- Rick Lugari has tagged us for that meme that's been floating around.

The rules of this meme are:

1. Go into your archives.
2. Find your 23rd post.
3. Post the fifth sentence (or closest to it).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
5. Tag five other people to do the same thing.

Here it is, from a post about the new crucifix at our church:
And as we walked out of church, we saw the figure of the Risen Christ suspended above the baptismal font in the rear.

I have named my five successors in pectore so that they may avoid persecution.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

How is one to decide??

In case it seems like things are too intellectual around here, the debate rages over at HappyCatholic as to whether blondes or brunnettes are hotter in the context of LOST.

And my brain is tired enough after this last week's work that this seems like a perfectly good excuse for sprucing the place up with a photo. Thinking scheduled to return some time tomorrow...

Complaining Your Way Into Problems

BearingBlog has a post up about people complaining about their kids, asking why no one says: I really love having kids! One does seem to get a lot of that kind of talk, though we hear a little less out here in Texas than we used to in Los Angeles.

This reminded me of a conversation MrsDarwin and I were having the other night about the dangers of complaining. There are a lot of subjects it's traditional to complain about in order to make small talk: job, spouse, in-laws, kids, house, car, etc. Unless everyone else out there is far more miserable than I am (it seems unlikely, but I guess it's possible) I assume that a certain amount of this is just social ritual.

As the drama prof pounded into my head when I took acting back in college, the best way to get yourself to feel an emotion is to take on the external characteristics of that feeling. Breath harshly, walk quickly, punch the air or shout, and real anger will usually well up inside you. Assuming the accidents can bring about the substance.

Watching the people at work who constantly complain about their spouses, or some of the couple we know who complain about their kids, I can't help wondering if complaining about something in order to have something in common to commiserate about can often as not create resentment where it didn't before exist.


It seems we have achieved adorable rodent status, though one can never tell if these things will last... Will our march 'further up and farther in' through the TTLB ecosystem continue, or will we be ignominously thrust back down to flappy bird status?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why Marriage?

The Bearing Blog linked to a guest blogging series by Maggie Gallagher on Volokh Conspiracy presenting a rationale for opposing same sex marriage. By nature of the format, the discussion itself was kind of spotty, but one brief section struck me as putting things rather well.

Marriage is a universal human institution because every society needs to regulate the procreative consequences of male-female sexual attraction. (Marriage regulates people who aren’t married by the way, e.g. by making it clear when a baby is going to be born "out of wedlock". . . This turns out to be quite substantively important for women, who often confuse things like cohabitation with a man’s willingness to be married to them. Marriage as a public category also lets single, as well as married people know when they are committing an act of adultery. Without clear boundaries it could be pretty hard to tell sometimes!)

So marriage as a legal status is one of the ways we get young men and women to do any one of the hard things necessary to make sure they postpone babies until they are married. Marriage is a way of wrestling with the fact that, men and women attracted to the opposite sex can just make a baby, with no intention or forethought, under the grip of a pretty powerful passion to boot: One drink too many and 9 months later, boom there’s a baby. Mom (if she doesn’t abort) is bound to be somewhere around. Dad isn’t necessarily anywhere nearby.
This struck me as an interesting way of putting things, and probably a good explanation as to why virtually every culture has had some form of marriage -- an institution to recognize and regulate male/female sexual relationships and define which children in society are legitimate and who is responsible for taking care of them -- while very few cultures have had any sort of formal, institutional way of recognizing same sex relationships.

While love and sexual fulfillment might be found in either setting by a given person, only a 'straight' relationship can create new human lives. As such, society has much more stake in 'straight', potentially child-bearing relationships than it does in any other kind of relationship, however loving. Love is a jolly good thing, and it's generally considered that the world could use more of it, but generally society doesn't officially recognize who is in love. It does, however, need to recognize who is responsible for raising a given child.

This is not to say that when a couple get married the main thought on their minds is, "Who will be responsible for raising out children." Far from it. But that is arguably society's main stake in the marriage business.

Gender and Religion

Interesting piece in the WSJ this morning about gender differences in religious participation:

This fall, the entering class of rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative institution, is 34% female. At Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary, women are nearly half the student body. At many Protestant seminaries, women pastoral students now outnumber men, and between 1983 and 2000 the number of women who identified themselves as clergy tripled. It seems that Catholic scholar Leon Podles's prediction of a few years ago, that "the Protestant clergy will be a characteristically female occupation, like nursing, within a generation," may soon prove true.
This lopsided picture is not a new development. Women have dominated American churches since the nation's founding; church records from the early colonial period document largely female congregations. Lamentations about the lack of men in the pews are similarly longstanding. In the 1830s, the Rev. Sebastian Streeter observed: "Christian churches are composed of a great disproportion of females." As historian Ann Douglas notes in "The Feminization of American Culture," the "19th-century minister moved in a world of women," and concerns about whether a feminized church could retain its men were a recurrent theme in the spiritual literature of the era. By the 1920s, the 60-40 gender split that is today the norm was firmly entrenched (the 1950s and 1960s saw a brief return of men to churches, but by the 1970s it had again eroded).
Interestingly, Mr. Murrow notes that, among the major Christian denominations, it is the mainline churches that suffer the largest gender gaps in church attendance. These churches, still pilloried by feminists for their patriarchal pretensions, have in fact become spiritual sorority houses. It is the more conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, that have the most even ratios. In these more traditional churches, many of which do not have female clergy, parishioners hear less about cooperation and feel-good spirituality and more about spiritual rigor and the competition to win souls. Churches that embrace male leadership, including the Roman Catholic Church, remain the largest in the country, and the Mormon Church, which also does not have female clergy, is the fastest-growing.

Although Mr. Morrow offers a useful diagnosis of the feminization problem, he overlooks a simple answer to the question of why church is more appealing to women than to men: its domesticating influence. Why else did pioneer women who helped settle the West make one of their first priorities the erection of churches? This leads to another observation, albeit an unpopular one in our age of gender egalitarianism: For as long as women have tried to tame and domesticate men, men have resisted. Understood this way, perhaps the lack of men in the pews is not so much cause for alarm as it is an affirmation of that unspeakable truth--men and women are different.

Generally the parishes I've attended have very little gender gap. Nor have any of them been liturgical or theological paradises. They've mostly just been very ordinary places. So I don't know if suburban Catholicism manages to break this mold. Certainly, some of the older ethnic parishes were heavy on the 'only women, children and old people go to church' ethic.

The key, as always, seems a sort of via media. Within the available types of practice and spirituality, the church should (within good practice and reason) strive to be 'all things to all men' neglecting neither the emotional, nor the spiritual, nor the ritualistic, nor the intellectual sides of the faith.

In this sense, while I think they do a valuable service to the extent that they bring anyone closer to God, I question the wisdom of 'mens ministries' or come to that 'womens ministries' in that a well rounded liturgical and pastoral approach should address the needs of both.

Lost Rant

I know Julie D. is going to put up a Lost post today, so I'm beating her to the punch -- ha, ha...

We watched last week's episode and Wednesday's episode back-to-back last night. Funny thing about Lost -- when it comes time to watch it I'm never interested and keep putting it off, but once we've sat down and turned it on we're drawn in and keep discussing it after it's over. Dunno why that is.

Anyway, who didn't know that Sun's wedding ring was buried with the bottle? It seemed glaringly obvious, though I was glad to see an episode with more of their back story. Jin is one of my favorite characters, and if they kill him off I'll be furious. Their "meet cute" was up there on my list of favorites.

And speaking of killing characters off, what was with the "coming up next time" preview at the end of this week's episode? They're going to make us wait three weeks to find out who gets killed off? I was up late last night trying to figure out who's going this time. Boone wasn't really a major character, and was quite expendable as far as the story went. But maybe they'll be more daring this time and kill off one of the major characters. Locke? Jack? (Oh, please...) Or Michelle Rodriguez -- if her character doesn't chill, I'll come across the screen and smack her myself. But she and Sawyer are made for each other -- maybe his collapse next time will soften her womanly heart.

Who was the blonde kissing someone in the preview? Was that Claire and Charlie? Couldn't get a good glimpse.

Alrighty, my girls are dumping the cat's food in his water dish, so that's all the Losting I have time for now. But since we have three weeks until our next fix, the discussion floor is open.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Oh, Baby...

You know you're listening to the classical station pledge drive when you are briefly pulled out of concentrating on your speadsheet by the phrase "This CD is almost R-Rated. It is the sexiest Gershwin you will ever here; and I've heard it all."

If you feel the need to go all the way with Gershwin, call go to KUSC and give Jim Svejda my regards...

Incidentally, the CD in question (now sadly OP, but re-printed specially for KUSC fund drives by permission of the conductor) is the recording of Rhapsody in Blue, American In Paris and Concerto in F conducted by Mitch Miller, who travelled with Gershwin, which is said to be the best recording of Gershwin out there. Of course, you do have to pledge $120 to get it... (Seeing as I only listen on the internet any more, I might have to go the low road and search ebay for it one of these days. It, like so many other things, is on my list.)

How to Blog Good, Part II

I'm a fan of Iowahawk, as you may know, and his second part of his How to Blog Good series had me wiping away tears of laughter. Warning: do not drink before you read.

In the introduction to the powerful BloggoNetrix™ system, we covered all the basics you will need to get your blog up and running. At this point, many blogging “newbies” think this is somehow their cue to start pasting up ads and PayPal buttons and tip jars and pledge drives and so forth. Not so fast there, lil’ tenderfoots! Don’t put your cart before the chickens: the first step to building fabulous blog wealth starts with attracting and retaining a loyal group of readers. Once you have amassed and nurtured your herd of “cash cows,” then you can begin thinking about driving your herd to the lucrative packing plant of advertising revenue. Until then leave the tip jars, like the one on the left, to us in the seasoned professional blogging community.

“But Dave,” I hear many young bloggers ask, “while I certainly love your irresistable new tip jar button on the left, just how do I build a personal reader base to secure my own financial freedom?” The answer is not nearly as complicated as it seems! Scientific studies have shown that the key to bagging your elusive online prey is, surprisingly, style. A dynamic, unique style can be the "sizzle" that keeps readers bellying up to the trough for another helping of your ideas, no matter how stupid and repulsive they might be. And, when it comes to modern online punditry, effective style can be characterized along the five positive blog dimensions: Pith, Persistence, Anger, Snark, and Sexiness. Let's review these dimensions and think about how they can be put to work.

Read the whole thing.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Religion

I'm generally not hugely impressed with psychology's attempts to discuss religion, but this article really struck me when I originally saw it on Amy's blog, and The Bearing Blog has some very interesting additional information on the topic. Here's the quote from the original article in the Guardian:

A Harvard psychologist named Gordon Allport did some key research in the 1950s on various kinds of human prejudice and came up with a definition of religiosity that is still in use today. He suggested that there were two types of religious commitment - extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic religiosity he defined as religious self-centredness. Such a person goes to church or synagogue as a means to an end - for what they can get out of it. They might go to church to be seen, because it is the social norm in their society, conferring respectability or social advancement. Going to church (or synagogue) becomes a social convention.

Allport thought that intrinsic religiosity was different. He identified a group of people who were intrinsically religious, seeing their religion as an end in itself. They tended to be more deeply committed; religion became the organizing principle of their lives, a central and personal experience. In support of his research, Allport found that prejudice was more common in those individuals who scored highly for extrinsic religion.

The evidence generally is that intrinsic religiosity seems to be associated with lower levels of anxiety and stress, freedom from guilt, better adjustment in society and less depression. On the other hand, extrinsic religious feelings - where religion is used as a way to belong to and prosper within a group - seem to be associated with increased tendencies to guilt, worry and anxiety.
Erin did a little more digging on how the system works. Apparently the psychologist who developed the system doesn't see there as being a spectrum where the extrinsic religiosity slowly fades into intrinsic religiosity. Rather, he sees these as two fundamentally different approaches to religion.

I'll have to have a look for the book that describes the scale when I'm able to make it out the UT library. I'm curious to see how they try to determine the type of approach to religion that a particular survey subject has.

Bearing Blog is an interesting place, generally. I'm adding them to the blogroll.

Cost of Goods

We've been thinking on darker themes of late, so how about if we pep things up with a few thoughts from the "dismal science"?

I have been thinking, lately, about buying shoes. Working as I do in marketing, you can get away with wearing 'business casual' or even jeans much of the time, but even if you wear jeans and oxfords rather than slacks and dress shirts, you are expected to wear high quality clothing. (One can, of course, ignore these things, but following the tribal customs seems to help one with advancement and such. Call me a sellout...)

So as I try to bring my wardrobe up to departmental standards without depleting the family budget, I have come up against the question of shoes. It begins to seem the time has come to reconcile myself to spending more than $70 for a pair of shoes and shell out for a pair or two of real men's dress shoes, with leather soles and everything.

This, I find, is not a cheap thing to do. And as I confront with some alarm the prospect of spending $100 or more on a pair of shoes, I found myself wondering about what exactly constituted a 'good' shoe, and what determines show cost.

Now if you want to be truly stodgy (and I try to be whenever I can afford it) a good pair of men's shoes should be made by a cobbler at a shop on high street in Town. If you have limited funds or want to be economical, you opt instead for shoes made by low-wage labor in China and/or made mostly by machine. Once upon a time, however, this wasn't a matter of choice. If you wanted shoes, you bought them from the town cobbler.

Now, being a cobbler (especially a good one) is certainly a skilled profession. And being right about at the national average income for a family of four plus a Smaskig, I would assume that (in inflation corrected dollars) a cobbler might expect to make pretty much the same as I do, which works out to about $20/hr.

I should think that a good pair of shoes could easily take 10+ hours to make by hand, so that puts the price of a handmade pair of shoes at $200 plus materials and margin. Perhaps $300 in 2005 dollars. And sure enough, it looks like that's what it costs to get hand made men's shoes from an English shop (if you skip over the ones that start at $1000 a pair and include the royal family among their clients). Here's another. (As you can see, I was getting into this...) Or, you can go for the more mass produced variety, either expensive or cheap. (Though the reason I got into all this in the first place is that it seems you can't really get any sort of leather soled men's dress shoe for less than $80-100, mass produced or otherwise.

Once upon a time, however, all shoes and clothes were made by hand. And all leather was cured by hand. And all cloth was woven by hand. No wonder we live in such rich times. I can pick up a $15 polo shirt because the cloth is woven by machine, the pieces are cut by machine, an the shirt is assembled in 20-30 minutes worth of machine sewing in Turkey, India, China or Egypt. Four hundred years ago, a shirt would have represented at least 20 man hours worth of spinning, weaving, cutting and sewing. And assuming it cost the return for 20 hours worth of my own work to buy the shirt, that would be in modern terms some $400.

If every shirt cost me the equivalent of $400, you can bet I'd have fewer shirts. And I'd wear them longer. Which would in turn mean that I or someone in my household would invest time in mending the shirt and re-dyeing the shirt to keep it presentable for years.

In many ways, the wealth of modern times is the result not of making things better (though goodness knows we can make things now that were impossible a mere fifty years ago) but making things worse, or at least cheaper. My wife sometimes will pick up a cute pair of women's shoes at Target for $15, knowing full well that they're only up to 3-6 months worth of occasional wear before they become too beat up to wear. They're badly made. Everyone knows they're badly made. But people are willing to accept it because, while cheaply made, they're also cheap.

We've gone from an economy that required people to produce good products because it was impossible for them to create many product, to an economy that frequently prefers high productivity to high quality.

So as I contemplate whether to be so retrograde as to purchase hand made shoes (which, I am assured, last far longer than the mass produced variety: leather souls being longer lasting than rubber, and welted shoes being repairable, while glued shoes are not) I am nonetheless thankful that I have the option in our modern world of buying $15 shirts and $40 shoes when I want to.

I haven't been what you could call 'poor' for several years now, nor were we for very long. But the period made enough of an impression on me to make me very much a supporter of Wal Mart and cheap imports. However less charming they may be than locally produced goods, Chinese imports have allowed our poor to possess more small luxuries than at any other time in history. And the business has helped turn China from a starving country into an emerging nation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On Praying for a Miracle

There comes a point, in the illness of a loved one, when one's best chance, perhaps one's only chance, is to pray for a miracle.

As a Christian, I don't question for a minute God's ability to miraculously cure any given person at any given time. God tells us to pound on the gates of heaven, like the old woman in the parable pounding on the man's house after it has been shut up for the night. And yet, God knows and understands our wishes even before we speak them.

Surely God, unchanging and eternal, does not "change his mind" because of our entreaties?

I do pray to God, begging for the outcome that I wish. But mostly I find myself praying for the strength to deal with whatever God's will is. I don't know if it's more lack of faith, fatalism, or realism, but my instinct is basically: God knows what I want, and will grant it if He wishes. I should pray for the strength to accept it.

Yet does that approach shortchange those we care for? By not pounding hard enough on heaven's gate, are we leaving miracles undone? Experiencing losses that we need not have -- at least not yet?

I can't quite imagine God withholding a cure because we asked one too few times. Or ten too few. It seems clear that should it be God's will to grant out wishes, He will. And if there is something in all this that is left to doubt, it is our own strength to accept what must be. So perhaps it is right to pray for strength and acceptance more than for a miracle.

And yet I know not...

So next time you have a chance, say a prayer for my father (Jonathon Hodge) suffering from non-hodgekins lymphoma. It certainly can't hurt.

And if you know any blesseds or venerables out there eager to move their canonization forward, tell them to get with it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Due Date

The calendar hanging on my kitchen wall has an excited notation for today: "Baby Due!" Yet there are no bags packed or meals laid in or neatly-folded crib sheets stacked in the closet, no tiny diapers in the house. The cradle sits in the corner, neglected by all but the cat. The baby whose coming was so eagerly noted for October 18 never kicked or had a heartbeat, but died in utero seven months ago and was miscarried over the three holiest days of the year: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. While most Catholics participate in Christ's passion symbolically, our family had a much more profound experience of Christ's suffering this year.

On Good Friday, March 25, I was ten weeks pregnant. Our family was attending the Stations of the Cross at our parish when my almost-three-year-old whispered that she had to go potty. After she'd finished, I asked her to wait while I exercised my pregnant woman's prerogative of using the bathroom at every opportunity. She played quietly with the diaper bag while I stared numbly at blood.

What did Christ feel when he saw the soldiers approaching him in the Garden of Olives? Was he terrified? Did he try to explain it away? Perhaps they weren't coming for him; maybe they were just out in the neighborhood on patrol. Maybe they would realize that they'd been misinformed and would just leave quietly. “Father, let this cup pass,” he had prayed, and his prayer became my own.

My husband and I left the girls with an understanding friend and rushed home to call the midwife, who counseled us to wait and rest until tomorrow morning when we could get a blood test to check the pregnancy hormone levels. After picking up the girls, we settled in for a long night's vigil.

The night passed slowly. I spent it in fitful prayers and fitful sleep, interspersed with frequent trips to the bathroom to see if anything had changed. I thought of Christ spending his own anxious night in his cell, wondering what exactly the morning would bring, knowing that all events were progressing inexorably toward his Passion. In the morning we dropped the girls off again with my friend so that they could dye Easter eggs, then headed off for my blood test. I drove, since my husband had also passed a rough night and was slightly feverish.

I had expected a great ordeal, but it took all of ten minutes to sign in in the empty lobby, get my blood drawn, and be assured that my midwife would call me in several hours with the results. At home again, I laid right down and tried to ignore the cramps that were beginning to wash over me at regular intervals. My husband was also deteriorating, and neither of us felt much like doing anything.

After a few hours, however, it became evident that he was going to have to go into the after-hours care clinic. His fever was skyrocketing, his throat was swollen, and he could barely stand. I wasn't doing so well myself, but at least I could drive. We staggered into the doctor's office, checked in, and spent a miserable hour both curled up in hard waiting room chairs, trying to ignore the incessant blare of Saturday afternoon TV. My cramps were worsening and it was often all I could do not to cry out, but I was in a cold, impersonal lobby surrounded by others wrapped up in their own sufferings. My husband's presence was comforting, but like Mary on Calvary, all he could do was watch and pray.

At last we were shown into a small examination room, where I could finally weep into a tissue without being subjected to the stares of strangers. The midwife had said that the cramps often lasted for only three or four hours; it seemed to me that I had been laboring for days, but with no reward to look forward to at the end. After an interminable amount of time, a doctor appeared, examined my husband, and offered an unfavorable diagnosis: double ear infection, raging fever, a touch of bronchitis. We would have to go to the pharmacy and pick up the prescriptions before I could collapse at home. The trip was agony. Once again I had to drive; my husband was barely conscious. I willed my foot to stay flat on the pedal instead of curling under with each cramp. I poured every ounce of concentration into following the lines on the pavement and cursed each red light that broke my momentum. At the drive-through pharmacy window, I could barely communicate; I nearly cried at the news we'd have to wait fifteen minutes before the medicine would be ready. As we waited in the parking lot, I pried my hands off the steering wheel to answer the cell phone. It was the midwife calling to tell me the results of my blood test. The hormone levels indicated that the baby had died two weeks ago.

And then I realized that the cramps were subsiding.

The rest of the evening passed in a haze. I was almost giddy with relief at the cessation of pain. The girls stayed overnight with my friend, who dropped by to pick up their fancy Easter dresses and new shoes and promised to put together an Easter basket for them. I moved around just enough to make sure my husband had his medicine and plenty of ginger ale. Christ may have been busy on Holy Saturday evening, harrowing hell, but I was stiff, weary, and desirous of death-like slumber.

The next morning we debated whether we should attend Mass. I haven't missed Sunday Mass since I was a youngster sick in bed, and Easter is the most important day of the liturgical year. Yet we were both ill and beaten down. I had had a miscarriage, he was still running a fever -- surely these were extenuating circumstances? Yet what could be more comforting to those who have suffered loss than receiving Christ who perfectly comprehends all suffering? We would go.

That afternoon I passed the sac with the baby inside. We opened it up and looked at the tiny body, no bigger than my little fingernail. As small as it was, we could see the tiny button nose and the beginnings of arms and legs, but the most striking feature was the large baby-blue eye. We hovered over the body for a time, fearful of touching it lest we crush it. Finally we wrapped up baby and buried it under a newly-planted rosebush. After a short prayer, we commended ourselves to our new saint and went up to sleep.


“Baby Due!” isn't the only item on the calendar for October 18. Next to the crossed-out 40 week mark is a penciled-in “21”. The newest member of our family is a healthy, wriggling baby girl, who has a strong heartbeat and a powerful kick. She doesn't replace the small baby who died with Christ, but it does ease the pain of the loss to know that next Easter I'll once again be looking down at a several week old baby, and this time the big blue eye will be looking right back at me.

Eucharist: More Ancient Than Scripture

I was catching up on Pontifications today and ran into a post that got me thinking. Al Kimel comments on a evangelical attempt to refute Catholic and Orthodox interpretation of the scriptures as regards to the Eucharist. The evangelical concludes that in order to get the Catholic mass out of John 6, you need to hopelessly stretch and extrapolate from it. Well and good, agrees Kimel, but the Church sees the Eucharist in John 6 because she already possesses the sacrament of the mass, not the other way round.

From this far remove, it's easy to forget the order of events. The apostles celebrated the Eucharist from the very earliest times, from the times that are described in the Bible. The Church did not go back, centuries after the fact, study John 6 and make wild extrapolations. No indeed. By the time John wrote his gospel, the mass had already been actively celebrated on a frequent basis for decades. The earliest form of the Eucharistic liturgy already existed. Far from the Church wildly inventing based on John's gospel, John wrote his gospel under the influence of the daily sacramental life of the Church. He was meditating on the Eucharist, not providing the seeds for its eventual invention.

From our own vantage point, 2000 years after, the Bible itself seems like a piece of ancient history, something the first Christians took up and read. It's easy to forget that in fact the Bible was written after the Church was already thriving, indeed because it was thriving: because it was now big enough that not every Christian had met the apostles, and as it became evident that 'the day and the hour' was far enough off that the Church would have to live on past the death of the last of the apostles.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Ramesh on Miers and Conservatives

Ramesh Ponnuru, the leading light of National Review and one of the smartest Catholic political writers out there, has a good piece in the New York Times editorial section on why conservatives are getting restive with Bush in general, and the Miers nomination in particular.

...But five years into Mr. Bush's presidency, conservatives have cause to re-evaluate their compromises. While most conservatives supported the invasion of Iraq, many have grave doubts about the conduct of the war. Medicare has been expanded more than it has been reformed. Social Security reform appears to be dead for now. Tax cuts may have inhibited spending - perhaps Medicare would have been expanded even more without them - but they have hardly imposed anything that could fairly be called "restraint."

The president appears not just to oppose immigration restrictions, but to be committed to liberalization. Hurricane Katrina shook conservatives, too. They rightly rejected overheated criticisms of Mr. Bush, especially those that portrayed him as indifferent to the suffering of blacks. But they want the federal government to perform its core functions competently....

In the past, conservatives had overlooked disappointments and disagreements for the sake of getting solid appointments to the Supreme Court. The president's judicial appointments will be among his most lasting legacies. But then Mr. Bush nominated Ms. Miers. Conservatives are not sure she's a legal conservative at all, and they are still less sure that she will be a forceful advocate for originalism. Not even her strongest defenders outside the administration say she would have been their top choice.

Those defenders say that we should nevertheless trust Mr. Bush's judgment. At the very moment that conservatives have begun to conclude that their bets on Mr. Bush are no longer paying off, Mr. Bush has asked them to double down. That request has even pro-Miers conservatives feeling disillusioned, and other conservatives feeling betrayed. That's what's dividing conservatives - and it's why they're thinking more and more about life after President Bush.

What I Want To Hear

One of the low points of the presidential debates in 04 was listening to each candidate try to explain why they held the positions they did on abortion. Kerry spun some opaque and pathetic nonsense about not imposing views on others while Bush responded with something well meaning but weak and mealy-mouthed about valuing every child as a gift.

Some day I really want to hear a pro-life politician knock the ball out of the park by saying:

"Like my opponent, I personally believe that human life begins at the moment of conception. And like my opponent, I understand that many of my fellow Americans do not share that view. I would like to speak to those Americans now.

"You and I disagree about when a newly created life becomes a human being, worthy of protection under the law. I respect your views. However, we must each act in obedience to our moral convictions. If I promised tonight to set aside my own deeply held beliefs and advocate a pro-choice position, you might rightly ask yourself: What other convictions will this man betray under public pressure? If he is willing to support the destruction of what he believes are human beings with human rights, who is safe when this man is in charge?

"In our country we have disagreements about big issues, issues that cut to the very core of what a human being is. We cannot hope that our elected officials will agree with us on every issue, but we can demand that they be honest about those convictions, and that they act straightforwardly in accordance to them."

A Well-Examined Life

Scott Carson has a pair of very good posts up over at Examined Life:

Today he posts about the "absolutism" of pro-lifers who oppose embrionic stem cell research.

On Friday he put up a very good post on the question of people "getting what they deserve".

The Eucharist and The End

Neil at CatholicSensibility links to an article about the Eucharist and martyrdom, focusing on archbishop Romero, reminding us that, in that the Eucharist is the celebration Christ's sacrifice and triumph over death:

The eucharist was essential for the early Christian martyrs, for it was seen as the foretaste of the heavenly banquet to which they were about to be called. Upon seeing the execution of Papylus and Carpus, the martyr Agathonica exclaimed, "For me too this dinner has been prepared, I too must eat my share of this glorious dinner." 15 For Romero, "Each priest killed is for me a new concelebrant in the eucharist of our archdiocese."16 The martyrs bridge the gap between earth and heaven by participating in the sacrifice of Christ on both the earthly and the heavenly altars. This gives us hope that the way things are is not the way things have to be or will be. Through Christ's sacrifice, the beginnings of the future heavenly kingdom have irrupted into human history. As Romero puts it, "Christ arisen has put in history's womb the beginning of a new world. To come to Mass on Sunday is to immerse oneself in that beginning, which again becomes present and is celebrated on the altar at Mass."
The eucharist makes us look back to Calvary twenty centuries ago ... [b]ut it also looks ahead to the future, to the eternal, eschatological and definitive horizon that presents itself as a demanding ideal to all political systems, to all social struggles, to all those concerned for the earth. The church does not ignore the earth, but in the eucharist it says to all who work on earth: look beyond. Each time the Victim is lifted up at Mass, Christ's call is heard: "Until we drink it anew in my Father's kingdom." And the people reply: "Come, Lord Jesus."... Death is not the end. Death is the opening of eternity's portal. That is why I say: all the blood, all the dead, all the mysteries of iniquity and sin, all the tortures, all those dungeons of our security forces, where unfortunately many persons slowly die, do not mean they are lost forever.