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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Conservatives and Daycare

Caleb Stegall demands to know over on the Crunchy Con blog:
So I'll put the question to Jim and any other "conservative" very directly: Are you willing to state that "with a few exceptions, anyone who would place an infant in daycare is a negligent parent and a negligent citizen"? Let's put some cards on the table.
I figure I can answer this one without accusation of bias, since I'm the only one in my workgroup at the office whose spouse stays home with the kids -- and gets by on half the household income of everyone else as a result.

The first duty of anyone, conservative or otherwise, it seems to me, is not to be a tiresome old ass. Not but what many asses (even old and tiresome ones) are right. But even if you are right, if you make enough of an ass out of yourself, no one will listen to you. Truth is never served well by being put in the most abrasive terms possible, unless the offense which is being protested is so grave, that it calls for denunciation in the strongest terms. Save your ammo for the beast so nasty that you need to shoot it twice.

Now, I do think that one should do all that one reasonably can do to avoid putting a child, especially an infant (or indeed, any kid under school age) into daycare. If you think about the economics of it, you pretty much can't afford to pay someone to pay as much and as quality attention to you child as you could yourself. And even if you could, you'd be ceding your place as parent to that person. A parent is not just a DNA donor. A parent is supposed to have an integral part in forming his or her child from the earliest days of infancy through the point when the child is old enough to start his or her own family.

I think there's a lot that can be said, both as a matter of personal experience and probably also as the result of behavioral testing and observation that would support the ideal of having one parent be with young children full time. Or, short of that, having a real relative (grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew or close family friend) provide supplemental care. Children are supposed to bond closely to their guardians, especially in that early stage of life, so having your child spend most of her time with a stranger is doing her no favors. Either she's bonding to the wrong person, or she's not bonding at all.

What-is-more, from talking to the women I know at work, several of whom have very young (meaning under two) children in daycare, it seems pretty clear that many if not most women have a natural desire to stay home with their children. It's not that many mothers actively want to leave their children in daycare, but rather that they haven't successfully thought through the realistic strategies that could help them break the two income family mold.

However (and if I'm just being a soft voiced pinko about this, someone can tell me) I don't think you're going to get anyone moving in that direction by fulminating at them that they're negligent parents and negligent citizens. Just as one does not normally convince someone to convert by telling him that without the graces of Christ he'll go to hell. (That may be an accurate statement, but it's a bad opener.)

Which I guess is what bugs me about the heavily polemical nature of some of the Crunchy Con rhetoric. I think there are some very valid points that Rod is making about how people (conservative or otherwise) need to think systematically about what they believe to be the important things in life and then actively order their day-to-day lives according to those ideals, however if you spend too much of your energy shouting that everyone else outside your clique is a materialist, you're not going to get them to reexamine their lifestyle choices.

Shrove Tuesday

Actually, I suppose we cheated in our Shrove Tuesday observance, in that we got ourselves shriven on Saturday. We didn't have a whole lot of choice, because someone forgot to give our parish the memo that shriving should be offered on Shrove Tuesday. C'est la vie.

MrsDarwin has been resolving to give up being pregnant for Lent, but so far the little blighter isn't biting at that one.

We didn't do anything big and exciting to celebrate today (I can't help wondering, in a sarcastic sort of way, if all the folks at the office who were planning to go out partying tonight are really planning on fasting tomorrow) but we did pick up some desert for the family. The girls selected a cheesecake with cherries on top for everyone to enjoy, and Daddy picked up some Belgian Kriek Lambic (a beer fermented using wild yeast and cherries) for himself. Mmmmm.

City of Dis

A New York Metro article (which someone linked to several days ago, and I've by now forgotten who) chronicles the three golden ages of abortion in New York City.

In the 1860s and 1970s:
New York's nineteenth-century abortionists advertised openly in the leading newspapers of the day, including the Times. "Ladies who desire to avail themselves of Madame Despard's valuable, certain and safe mode of removing obstructions, suppressions, &c., &c., without the use of medicine, can do so at one interview," read an 1863 Times ad. Abortion advertising became a hefty source of newspaper revenue. New York's most famous abortionist, the flamboyant Madame Restell, spent $60,000 a year on such advertising. Over 40 years, she built an abortion empire, with traveling salesmen hawking her pills and franchise clinics in Boston and Philadelphia. Such was her prominence that abortion was referred to in New York as "Restellism." The practice became very common. A study from 1868 found that one in five New York City pregnancies ended in abortion.

But Restellism produced a backlash. In the 1870s, the Times stopped accepting abortion ads and launched a crusade against the industry. "There is a systematic business in wholesale murder conducted by men and women in this City, that is seldom detected, rarely interfered with, and scarcely ever punished by law," read a front-page report from 1871 headlined THE EVIL OF THE AGE. Laws against abortion advertising were passed, and abortionists were prosecuted. Madame Restell, who had already been through several trials, was arrested again in 1878 for selling her abortifacient concoctions. On the eve of a court appearance, she dressed herself in diamonds, slipped into her marble bathtub, and slit her throat. By 1881, New York had passed some of the most severe abortion bans, laws that were imitated throughout the nation.
Again in the 1960s and 1970s:
As the New York State Legislature moved haltingly toward repealing the state's laws, the city's abortion underground began making news. In 1969, police raided the 30th floor of the New York Hilton and arrested three people performing abortions. Another raid in a luxury high-rise in Riverdale broke up "an abortion ring" servicing wealthy women from around the country, many of whom were referred there by the clergymen.

When the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) was founded in 1969, it made New York its first target. Several states had already passed reform laws, but for the most part they allowed abortions only if the health of the mother was at risk. The push for repeal in New York was built in stages, first by the referral system, then by pro-abortion activists converting Democratic clubs in New York City to the cause, precinct by precinct. The turning point in the debate came when several Long Island legislators signed on to the bill. The Times also joined the cause, printing a steady beat of pro-repeal editorials.

The crucial roll call came in the New York Assembly on April 9, 1970. The bill appeared to be doomed by a single vote. As the vote neared completion, a trembling, bespectacled man in a black suit rose to his feet, tears welling in his eyes. "I realize, Mr. Speaker," Assemblyman George M. Michaels said, "that I am terminating my political career, but I cannot in good conscience sit here and allow my vote to be the one that defeats this bill. I ask that my vote be changed from 'no' to 'yes.'" Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the bill into law, making New York the only state in the country with abortion on demand for all comers.

In the two and a half years between July 1970, when New York's new abortion law took effect, and January 1973, when the Supreme Court's Roe decision legalized the procedure everywhere, 350,000 women came to New York for an abortion, including 19,000 Floridians; 30,000 each from Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois; and thousands more from Canada. By the end of 1971, 61 percent of the abortions performed in New York were on out-of-state residents.

Commercialization crept back into the abortion business. The clergymen, who had never taken any money for their work, were pushed aside by heavily advertised commercial referral services, which targeted out-of-state women, charging them about $100 to find a New York provider. New York's abortion monopoly produced a booming new industry. One service even flew an airplane banner ad over Miami Beach.
And again now, as New York once again regains its status as one of the few areas in the country where abortion totally on demand (and state funded) is the norm:
The abortion capital of New York is at the corner of Bleecker and Mott. That's the home of Planned Parenthood's Margaret Sanger Center, the largest abortion provider in New York. Doctors at this one clinic perform some 11,000 abortions per year. "I'm sure we provide a good chunk of the abortions in the U.S.," says Dr. Maureen Paul, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood New York. In fact, the Margaret Sanger Center provides about one in every ten abortions in New York and about one in every thousand abortions in the United States....

Over the last year, Dr. Paul has noticed a singular trend: "We are providing more out-of-state abortions." The number of women coming to Planned Parenthood's New York City clinics has risen 21 percent....

Regulating abortion in the United States is like playing whack-a-mole. Every time a state tightens its laws, abortions rise somewhere else. If Roe is overturned, Cristina Page, author of the forthcoming How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, estimates that as many as 30 states would likely move toward criminalization, vastly increasing the traffic of abortion seekers into New York, just like in the early 1970s.
And so history's wheel turns round. An interesting irony, which the article elides (I assume it doesn't exactly fit in the author's worldview) is that the progressive/reformist spirit which led to the original bans back in the 1870s was the same spirit which fed the abolitionist movement, the right to vote movement, the labor movement, and the prohibitionist cause -- movements with rather varied degrees of success to be sure, but all of them motivated by the original 'progressive' idea, that simply because "we have always had slavery" or "we have always had drunkenness" or "we have always had abortion" does not mean that one must accept it unrestricted and unfrowned-upon in society.

Today's 'progressives' retain this idealism on certain topics, believing that it is possible to abolish such things as poverty, war and ethnic prejudice, yet all too many progressives have an old-school fatalism towards other wrongs such as drug abuse and abortion. "Ah well, such things shall always be with us. Might as well keep them safe, legal and rare."

The conservative movement has its own contradictions, holding that human nature and social ills are in many ways constant, and while they should be alleviated cannot be abolished, while at the same time seeking to outlaw certain wrongs (such as abortion), even with the understanding that outlawing them will not make them wholly go away.

The Joy of Goodness

A fascinating take on the Lord of the Rings movies from Mere Comments, all about how the joy of goodness that Tolkien put into his books was lost in the films.
The trouble is that neither the director nor his fellow screenplay writers understood the joy of goodness. I don't mean happiness exactly, or the perky buffoonery of Merry and Pippin, but the simple and abiding joy that one feels, almost unconsciously, when one is doing a good thing, like planting out a garden of fine potatoes, or drinking excellent ale with old friends, or following one's master into Mordor, come what may. It's a kind of spiritual health, a brightness that you don't always notice until it is seared or spoiled.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is simply full of this joy, always threatening, like good but boisterous children, to burst out of the iron bonds of a bad world and rough things up again. I understand that when you write a screenplay you can't and shouldn't include every episode -- so I'm not blaming Jackson and his colleagues for cutting out Tom Bombadill. I'm blaming them for not understanding why Tolkien included that episode, unnecessary for the plot, in the first place. For if you cut out the good Tom, a force of nature, you sure had better not cut out Radagast, the simple wizard who spends all his time learning the languages of birds. Or you had better make sure that Merry and Pippin meet Sam and Frodo by design, since they are happy to accompany them no matter what. Or you had better be precise about the quiet humor, the eye-twinkling, of Aragorn. Or you better make Galadriel into something other than a female Boromir who pulls back from temptation at the last moment. You had better make your elves as beautiful as the trees they love; and you should sometimes shoot scenes that shine with the glories of wood and stream and sunlight.

The characters seem good in the way that weary, scorched souls may try to be good; they can no longer imagine the innocence they have lost. Or they stare wide-eyed out into nothing, like Elijah Wood, hoping that that will convey something like innocence -- innocuousness, at least. Even the wicked characters have no hypocritical traces of glory about them: so Saruman is reduced from the self-deluded, prideful fool who initially thinks he can do good by playing with evil, to a mere raving tool of Sauron; he does not rise to the level of the two-dimensional.

Read the comments as well.

(Masterpiece Theater's production of Bleak House is also mentioned in this post, and though I've never read the book, I have to agree that the unmigitated grimness of this version lacks the rambunctious cheer of even the most cynical Dickens novels.)

H/T Good and Happy, who comments:

Somehow, there is a moral legend afoot that we should pursue the Good merely because we ought, and ask no further. Yes. But In deep fact, we want the Good even as we want -- because they are good -- good food, good company, light and air, a happy home, love with a beautiful mate, the safety of children.

As the comments suggest, enjoying the good rather than distracting ourselves jerkily with that-defined-as-fun, implies touching bases and driving tent-pegs that we may have neglected for awhile. Beyond solipsistic hedonism indulging faux nostalgia for a tribe. Or the complexity-maven who finds torment "more interesting" than fruitful happy simplicity.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Why Homeschool

There are, I expect, nearly as many reasons for homeschooling as there are homeschoolers, however they do seem to fall into certain broad categories.

Many Christian parents choose to homeschool for 'religious reasons', meaning that either they feel the theological and moral formation at the schools available to them are deficient, or they want to have a more hands-on experience of teaching their children religion. This is not, however, the main thing that attracts me to homeschooling -- though certainly, experience tells us that no matter how Catholic a school may be, the primary religious formation has to take place at home. Still, I don't think it's necessary to homeschool your child to give her (or him, if you happen not to be a Darwin) a solid religious foundation.

In our case, we plan on homeschooling primarily because we have enough opinions about how education ought to be done (perhaps not fully formed opinions yet, but opinions that are important enough to us that we don't want to leave them un-acted upon) that it seems easier to educate our children ourselves than to make a nuisance of ourselves by trying to find someone else willing to do it our way.

Why not, you might ask, become a teacher, if I'm so interested in education? Well, I'm interested in the intellect and the training of it, and I have a strong interest in education in that I feel that much of what I am is the result of my education, and I want to pass on and perhaps refine that gift to my own children. However, while I'm willing to go through all the grief one gets as a teacher with my own children, I must confess that I have no interest in doing so with other people's.

Education seems to me a very personal thing. It seems hard if not impossible to do it well with someone you don't know well. I feel that with my own children I'll at least stand a decent chance of getting to know them well enough to help them gain a good education. I don't feel I could say the same for someone else's offspring, much less forty of them at a time.

Plus I tend to have the patience of a Viking rather than a saint...

Baby Darwin holds Press Conference to Announce She's Not Leaving; Appears Confused by Lent

Baby Darwin summoned reporters today to announce that she's decided not to be born.

"I'm comfortable here," she said. "I've got it made. And I get to enjoy everything Mom eats: cookies, cheese, chocolate -- I even had a bit of wine last night!"

A reporter asked her what she would do during Lent, when Mrs. Darwin would be giving up little snacky luxuries such as cookies, and would be trying to eat more austerely. Baby Darwin seemed confused, turning to an aide and demanding to know if this were true. The aide confirmed it.

"Well, this changes my plans. I don't know what's going to happen now," said Baby, and refused to answer any more questions.

Mrs. Darwin reported an upsurge in angry kicks throughout the afternoon.

Envy and Priorities

I used to think that I wasn't prone to envy because I could admire the way that my friends who were materially better off spent their money. I couldn't begrudge them nicer clothes or furniture or houses because those were just the sorts of things I would buy if I could afford to. It was nice that somebody had fine things, even if it wasn't me.

Envy is a bit more insidious than that, I find now. I was content as long as people I knew bought things that I considered worthwhile, but now I find myself grinding my teeth whenever someone I know drops what I consider a lot of money on something I consider foolish, or downright stupid. This is silly, I know -- my friends aren't obligated to conform to my tastes in their spending habits, and variety is the spice of life, and all. Still, it irks me more than it should to think, "Geez, if I had that kind of disposable income, you can bet I wouldn't spend it on A, B, or C!"

Of course, this works both ways. I recall coming back from a sale once with a blazer and showing to an acquaintance. She took one look at the price tag and exclaimed, "Tell me you didn't pay that much for that!" It pleases me to think that I have good taste and an eye for quality, so her response rankled. But then, everyone I know thinks that they are as frugal as they possibly can be, in accordance with their priorities -- they're just not MY priorities.

Which only goes to prove that I'm far more materialistic than I'd like to admit, and that the temptation to envy is stronger than I once thought it was.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Other Seventy Percent

It is an inherent danger of being deeply involved in a topic to fall into the habit of assuming that everyone must have some sort of opinion on it. Thus, those of us who are very much into politics tend to assume that everyone must in fact have a political position, whether conservative, liberal, or difficult-to-define. Similarly, those of us who are active in Catholic circles tend to assume that everyone must be either orthodox or dissenting, must prefer formal liturgy or a more personal touch, must have on opinion on whether the liturgy should be in Latin or the vernacular, etc.

Then, assuming that everyone must somehow fit on these spectrums of conviction, we place people based on what we know of them. So when I talk to another Catholic and it comes out that he thinks birth control is no big deal, it would be 'nice' to have women priests, or divorce and remarriage should be easier, I tend to assume that he is 'progressive' or at least vaguely 'dissenting' in his theology. And when someone I know says she is in favor of universal health care, I tend to assume that she is politically liberal, buys into certain ideas about the ability to achieve material and social progress through government action, and so on.

However, because I am myself so interested in these particular fields, I tend to forget the equally likely explanation that the speaker has, for whatever reason, taken a fancy to the professed belief, but in general has no very well structured system of thought about the subject at all.

Taking politics as our example for a moment, in any recent American election the largest single block of voters is the block that case so little that it doesn't vote at all. In 2004, 45% of the voting age population didn't vote (15% wasn't even registered, and 30% was registered but didn't vote), and that was an unusually high turnout year. Bush got 52% of the 55% that actually voted: 26% of the voting age population. Yet apathy and ignorance go much farther than just the 45% of the population not voting. Realistically, somewhere between thirty and sixty percent of the people who did vote (if one can believe some of the silly things that polls tell us swing voters) voted for reasons varying from uninformed party loyalty to ignorance and fear. Out of the electorate as a whole, I think it's realistic to imagine that only around 10-30% have some sort of informed and coherent political philosophy, liberal, conservative or otherwise.

Similarly, on Catholic issues, there's the huge portion of self-professed Catholics who either never go to church, or only go on Easter and Christmas. According to most polls, that's 65-75% of 'Catholics' right there. And yet, I'd bet that most of those aren't so much staying away because they've considered and rejected the Church's theology and moral norms. A significant portion of them probably simply do not know what they are.

It gets a little better when we narrow the scope to those who go to mass at least once a week, but even so, I'd bet over half of those Catholics do not have strong opinions on whether Humanae Vitae is definitive, whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is final, whether liturgical dance is bad or Latin is good. Most of them simply haven't thought about it.

The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the majority of people have not examined the majority of the elements of their lives. (Perhaps an odd blending of Scott Adams assertion that everyone is an idiot about something and Theodore Sturgeon's law that 90% of everything is crud is in order.)

On the one hand, people should remember that not as many people may agree with them as might appear to be the case. For example, simply because 52% of those voting in the '04 election voted for Bush most certainly does not mean that 52% of voters are conservatives. Probably something like 20-25% of voters are what one could call conservatives in some serious sense. The rest may be open to conservative ideas to one extent or another and may have voted for Bush in whole or in part because of the conservative nature of some of his ideas (or, more discouragingly, perhaps because of his ideas that aren't conservative at all) but on the other hand a number of those who voted for Bush voted for reasons that are not conservative in any ideological sense.

On the other hand, one also has fewer opponents than one might, in the darker hours, imagine. While it may be true that more than 50% of weekly mass-going Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence (I'm heard this statistic several times, but I'd want to see the question asked before putting too much stake in it) that's probably not because 50% of mass goers has examined the belief and found it to be false. There may be a few who have rejected the Real Presence outright, but there are far more who simply don't understand it or have never been taught anything about it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Teaching Standards

A couple weeks ago, the Ohio Board of Education made headlines by removing language from their science teaching guidelines which would have required teachers "teach the controversy" about evolution. Scott Carson of examined life provided some good thoughts on the matter, as did Jay Anderson of Pro Ecclesia.

The deleted language was as follows:
Grade 10, Indicator 23: "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory. (The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.)" [source]
Now clearly, this kind of language shouldn't be controversial. One would hope that at a tenth grade level student could learn about how scientists "continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of" a whole host of theories. That is, after all, what scientists do with theories. However, on the highly charged intersection of evolution, creationism and intelligent design, such things are often not what they seem and common sense does not prevail.

That much is hardly news, and I might have let the whole thing slip by, except that the mere existence of the spat over these two sentences made me think about the deeper problems with our public education system. Two of the biggest problems with it being, at least in my estimation, that it is huge, and it is (at least to an extent) centralized.

It seems to me that education should be an artisan product, not a mass commodity. If one is responsible for funding and organizing a huge number of schools (as a state board of education is) I certainly understand the desire to write out detailed instructions in order to try to assure that teaching at a given grade level is fundamentally similar and always hits a certain base level of quality. Indeed, perhaps that is the only way that one can run such a large school system. If so, that would simply confirm in my mind the idea that one simply shouldn't have such a large school system. After all, the people who will be directly impacted by the quality of a school are the children attending it, their parents, and the immediate community into which these children shall (with whatever the school declares to be a sufficient education) be set loose.

In the ideal world (if you're not educating your children yourself, which seems to be the way we're heading towards here in Darwin-land) it seems like the procedure would be that a school would hire a teacher based on their belief that the teacher both possessed a thorough knowledge of his subject and showed strong teaching skills, and the teacher would then be more-or-less free to pick his own books and lesson plan. If the school board or principle did not agree with content or presentation which the teacher favored, they might ask him to modify his methods, or they might seek out a more congenial teacher. But this fussing, sentence by sentence, of guidelines of what teachers ought to teach and how they ought to do it detracts from the centrality of the teacher. One can always, I am convinced, learn far more from an individual (almost any individual) than from a committee, no matter how earnest in its work.

The Middle-Wife

This is kind of cutesy, but since I'm trying to encourage baby to think labor-thoughts (and I've always been anti-union myself) I thought I'd post it. Har har.
The Middle Wife
By an Anonymous 2nd grade teacher

Well, one day this little girl, Erica, a very bright, very outgoing kid, takes her turn and waddles up to the front of the class with a pillow stuffed under her sweater. She holds up a snapshot of an infant.

"This is Luke, my baby brother, and I'm going to tell you about his birthday First, Mom and Dad made him as a symbol of their love, and then Dad put a seed in my Mom's stomach, and Luke grew in there. He ate for nine months through an umbrella cord."

[She's standing there with her hands on the pillow, and I'm trying not to laugh and wishing I had my camcorder with me. The kids are watching her in amazement.]

"Then, about two Saturdays ago, my Mom starts saying and going, 'Oh, oh, oh, oh!' " [Erica puts a hand behind her back and groans.] "She walked around the house for, like an hour, 'Oh, oh, oh!'"

[Now this kid is doing a hysterical duck walk and groaning.]

"My Dad called the middle wife. She delivers babies, but she doesn't have a sign on the car like the Domino's man. They got my Mom to lie down in bed like this."

[Then Erica lies down with her back against the wall.]

"And then, pop! My Mom had this bag of water she kept in there in case he got thirsty, and it just blew up and spilled all over the bed, like psshhheew!"

[This kid has her legs spread and with her little hands are miming water flowing away. It was too much!]

"Then the middle wife starts saying 'push, push,' and 'breathe, breathe..' They started counting, but never even got past ten. Then, all of a sudden, out comes my brother. He was covered in yucky stuff, they all said it was from Mom's play-center!, so there must be a lot of stuff inside there."

[Then Erica stood up, took a big theatrical bow and returned to her seat. I'm sure I applauded the loudest. Ever since then, if it's show-and-tell day, I bring my camcorder, just in case another Erica comes along.

Take a hint, baby!

Yeah, I'm still here

For all who've been wondering -- no, baby's NOT HERE YET. I feel like the parent of one of those slackers who takes up permanent residence in the basement and then starts complaining that no one gives him any space. Baby likes to stretch out and see if she can push a bit more room out of my stomach, but there's just no more room for her to find. You're going to have to move out of Mom's stomach one day, sweets!

If you're keeping count at home, baby is due on Wednesday, but I'd like to point out that she's full-term now and it won't hurt her at all to come a few days early. Grandma has arrived and is taking charge of Noogs and Babs, so everything is in readiness -- we're just waiting for the guest of honor here.

Darwin had a co-worker once who was a big proponent of "hypno-birth" (it was her first pregnancy). She had a "Baby Come" script which she started reciting two weeks before her due date, and would stop her ears and chant "Cancel, cancel, cancel" if anyone tried to tell her that it might possibly be painful to have a baby. As it turned out, the baby come script didn't work, since she went two weeks overdue. But she did manage to have an unmedicated birth, so maybe her hypnosis worked for her there. There's no real point to this anecdote -- just thought I'd share it with you.

Alrighty, we're back to our regularly scheduled waiting....

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Neighborhood is Dead

And I helped kill it...

Every so often one hears a lament over the death of the old fashioned neighborhood -- that sunlit playground where children larked and housewives chatted over white picket fences. Kids forsook the TV and got plenty of exercise with their friends, and parents didn't worry because they knew that the watchful eyes of the neighborhood mothers would keep their children safe.

Many neighborhoods aren't like this anymore (though certainly some are) and several possible culprits have been put forward. Two income families receive a good deal of blame. With no parents home, who is to watch the children? And so children are ordered to remain indoors. Another favorite whipping boy is electronic entertainment: Clearly the children are all inside watching TV or playing video games.

I think there's a great deal to both of these, but another contributing factor is cultural and moral fragmentation. For example: a few months back I was talking to the ten-year-old son of the family down the street. Among other accomplishments, he mentioned his enjoyment of horror movies ("killing movies" he called them -- such as Alien vs. Predator) and bragged about his drawing abilities. "I can draw girls," he announced. "You know, all slutty with boobs and piercings." "Ah..." I said. And I made a mental note that I never wanted my little girls playing anywhere near this budding pervert.

If you want your kids to grow up Catholic (or any other orthodox form of Christianity) in today's culture, you frankly don't want your kids around the average neighbor kids. My own parents tended to be pretty hesitant about random neighborhood kids when I was growing up, preferring me to play with kids of their friends from bible study or other students from the parish school. And when I did hang out with other neighborhood kids, we sometimes lacked common experiences. They reveled in Nightmare On Elm Street, Poltergeist and Highlander. I made a futile attempt to brag about having seen John Houston's The Dead (it almost worked since they didn't know that despite the threatening title it was based on a James Joyce story) and tried to interest them in Time Bandits, but it didn't really work. They were all proficient on Atari and early Nintendo systems. I was never allowed to have one, so when I played on their I tended to lose badly. And so on.

Looking back, I'm generally quite glad that my parents kept me separate from the wider culture, and I intend to do much the same for our kids. (With sufficient work you most definitely can choose your kids friends.) But without a doubt that kind of cultural and moral segregation is one of the factors in breaking the "everyone watches everyone's kids" dynamic that so many remember fondly.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Pick Thy Enemy

The other day in some comment box thread somewhere, I saw someone demand to know why it was that England and France declared war on Nazi Germany after its invasion of Poland, but not on the USSR, which (as agreed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) invaded Poland as well (plus anexxed the Baltic states and attacked Finland).

The person asking the question had an answer in mind. He felt that England and France must not have cared at all about the freedom of Poland or fighting authoritarianism, but rather cared about preserving their colonial empires -- to which Germany was a threat but Russia was not. I tend to find this explanation a little overly cynical. But the question itself remains interesting.

Looking into it more deeply, the first answer seems to be one of timing. Germany invaded Poland on Sept 1st, 1939. Britain and France declared war on Sept 3rd. German troops reached and attacked Warsaw on Sept 9th, and the largest battle of the campaign was fought along the Bzura River from Sept 9-19. On Sept 10, the Polish commander in chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, ordered a general retreat from the country through neutral Romania. (The Polish army made its way to France and thence to England. It remained the third largest active Allied army until the entrance of the US into the war.) Russia invaded on Sept 17th.

So one reason may well be that since the Russian invasion cam so late, it wasn't seen as being as much a direct violation of treaty as the German invasion.

Clearly, Allied sympathies ran strongly against the Soviets, and several thousand Brits and Canadians volunteered to go fight the Russians in Finland when Russia attacked her in November of 1939. However, since Germany is in between Russia and Western Europe, the Allies may already have fostered hopes of eventually winning Russia over to fight against the Nazi threat.

Also, having just read Antony Beevors books on the Eastern Front in WW2, I kind of suspect that in 1939 it didn't occur to Britain and France that Stalin could manage to be as much of a threat to the rest of Europe as Hitler was. The Russians essentially walked into Poland, and they were able to take the Baltic states without any fighting. They were badly mauled by tiny Finland. And after years of Stalin's purges and the general poor management for which the USSR is so justly famous the Russian army was in simply terrible shape in 1939-1941. It seems to me like it was only the invasion by Germany (and the immanent threat to Stalin's life and power) that forced the Soviet Union to lay off its self-cannibalism and build a military machine capable of destroying Germany and taking and keeping the Eastern Bloc. The resources were certainly always there, but without that incentive, I don't think that the Russian military would have been built into the machine that held half of Europe captive for forty years.

Thus, in a certain sense, we can lay the sufferings of Eastern Europe under Soviet rule at Hitler's feet. For all his hatred of Communism, it probably never could have conquered Europe without his unwitting help -- though that would still be little consolation for the tens of millions of Stalin's domestic victims.

Hypocrisy and Virtue

Hypocrisy (along with intolerance and authoritarianism) is one of the very few vices in the post-modern canon of morality. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a vice that the world very frequently accuses Christianity of. "Brights" love to point out that while Christians may claim that their morality espouses chastity and fidelity, "red" states have higher rates of illegitimacy and divorce than "blue" one -- and highly educated atheists have low divorce rates compared to the "average Christian".

Conservatives (a certain line of thought goes) are hypocrites. They run around proclaiming a high standard of morality, and yet again and again it becomes clear that no Christian is perfect -- every Christian violates his own moral code. Why can't conservatives just "judge not"? Why don't they stop insisting that gay marriage and abortion and birth control and divorce and all these "personal, bedroom decisions" are moral issues and let people follow their own consciences? And why not admit that some bad things just happen? Sure, abortion and divorce are bad -- but bad things happen all the time. Conservative Christians get divorced and have abortions too. So why make all this noise about "objective evil". Why not admit that everyone is a sinner but we're all basically good?

One of my liberal Episcopalian friends had a great deal to say along these during the bishop Robinson flap. Her claim was that conservative Episcopalians were being hypocritical in opposing Robinson when they knew very well that even believers in orthodox morality sin. "So what if he's more publicly known as a sinner," her argument went. "All priests and bishops sin, so why should people be upset simply because you know that this particular bishop sins in a particular way?"

All this is very different from Christ's objection to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Christ condemned the pharisees for pretending to be sinless while in fact sinning.

The post-modern condemnation of hypocrisy faults people for declaring something to be a sin despite the fact that he does it.

Well, we are all definitely sinners. So the post-modern condemnation of hypocrisy is essentially a demand that no sin ever be condemned. Goodness knows, it's discouraging when someone who has been an upspoken proponent of morality is publicly revealed to commit the very sins that he condemns. Yet isn't such a hypocrite far better than someone who denies that those actions are sins at all? To paraphrase Chesteron: The thief respects private property, he merely wishes the property of others to be his own. The adulterer respects marriage, he simply wants to enjoy the pleasures of someone else's marriage in addition to his own.

In our topsy turvey world, what many people call hypocrisy is simply the refusal to be so depraved as to ignore the existence of sin all together -- even if one is not successful in avoiding the sin. Three cheers for hypocrisy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Few, The Proud, The Artists

I saw this in the WSJ this morning, and thankfully it's one of the few articles available for free online. It's an article about Warrant Officer Michael Fay, the Marine Corps' official combat artist. Fay is the Corps' only current combat artist. He's been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, with his primary mission being depicting a soldier's eye view of the wars there.

In the field, Warrant Officer Fay often sketches in pencil or takes photographs to use as models for paintings, especially if the firing is heavy. He grants himself painterly license to create an image that is authentic, but not always literal. Once he used dirt from the battlefield to make the proper colored pigment for a watercolor of a Humvee ambulance churning its way through the historic Iraqi city of Babylon.

Warrant Officer Fay sees beauty where others might see just destruction. During three days at Observation Post Horea, he hung out with the grunts, the front-line infantrymen, and reveled in the brass spiral of machine-gun belts, the subtle green-on-green jigsaw puzzle of a sandbag wall, and the hidden stories of spent bullet casings in the concrete rubble. The sun streaming through the IV bottles, as they awaited wounded men, reminded him of the glistening quality of Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring."

In the outpost's front compound, an area the infantrymen cross at a sprint to avoid Iraqi sharpshooters, he crouched behind a generator to sketch the sandbagged guardpost at the main gate and the crumpled building beyond it. "This is about as far out on the tip of the spear as you can get -- Post One at O.P. Horea," he said. He was drawn to the landscape of mud and broken pallets, sand bags and shattered walls. "I was sort of hoping there were no snipers," he said after completing his sketch.

The infantrymen consider him something of a curiosity on the battlefield, but they generally like his work. "Did you go to school for that, sir?" asked Cpl. Jonhatan Covarrubias, peeking at the sketches.

Warrant Officer Fay did, of course, but at the same time, he remains very much a Marine. He was eating a ready-to-eat chicken-and-noodles meal for dinner recently when the outpost came under attack, from suspected rocket launchers on one side and automatic weapons fire on the other. He hurriedly put on his helmet and flak vest and raced to the roof with his assault rifle, but not his sketchpad.

"When it's hitting the fan, you don't want to miss out on the opportunity to fire back," he said.

Although in WWI and to a lesser extent WW2 all the services had official combat artists, apparently the Corps is the only service still to maintain the role. I'd love to see more of his work from Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder if there will ever be a book put out, or if you can only see it by going to one of the Corps museums.

If you should get the crunchies...

National Review has put up a Crunchie Con blog/discussion group. Rod Dreher is the room monitor and participants include a number of non-NRO people including Amy Welborn.

Rod is trying to loosely structure the discussion over the coming weeks to move through the book's themes in order, so I'm a little curious to keep up and see whether they manage to refine a clear concept of what the essence of crunchie con-ness (I'm trying to avoid the "dom" ending, tempting as it might be) or if the concept ends up fragmenting into not much more than a cute categorization (like the "NASCAR dads" of yesteryear).

More Crunchy Cons, and Mother Teresa

Rich Leonardi, one of my daily reads (and a Cincinnati boy!), has this comment on the "Crunchy Cons" discussion:
But is there really a "crunch con" phenomenon set to explode -- or even expand -- across the American landscape? A handful of Kirkean (and Burkean) conservatives emphatically recoil from crass materialism. Alright. Don't most of us recognize and register our opposition to this crassness, albeit perhaps less emphatically and sans granola, by catechizing our children? ("Pushing back against the culture" -- to use Flannery O'Connor's phrase -- and all that.)

I do hope that there isn't some sort of predictable policy agenda associated with "crunchy conservatism." Otherwise, it runs the risk of being a Catholic variation of the elusive "third way." For example, a year or two ago, a Catholic civil war erupted over the subject of Texas' CHIP, a state assistance program designed to provide healthcare to the working poor. It was more or less taken for granted that the "right" Catholic position was support for the program. Anyone who dared oppose it or pointed out its flaws was heckled as "putting his party before his faith" or "wedded to a hoary ideology."
This idea of the "right" Catholic political position has had me in mind of Deus Caritas Est, in which Pope Benedict points out that the Church should not direct its work toward political or social ends, but spiritual ends.

An example: both Christopher Hitchens and Penn Jillette have denounced Mother Teresa as a phony because her mission was to the dying. Not the sick, not the poor, but the dying. Jillette goes so far as to say that "She had the f---king coin and pissed it away on nunneries." These secular critics have a deeper understanding of Mother Teresa's work than most Catholics do. Mother Teresa comforted the dying -- not to alleviate their suffering (though as far as they were able, she and her sisters did so), not to cure them, but ease their passage to Christ. This is a spiritual work that is beyond comprehension of someone like Hitchens or Jillette, but it is the sort of work that the Church has always done and must continue to do. She may have been savaged for not pushing a political agenda or using her clout to make vast social changes in the fabric of Calcutta, but she was true to the higher spiritual needs of those she served. Her work was "folly to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Gentiles" -- and more Catholics would do well to emulate her.

In this sense, those who see Mother Tesesa as having had a medical ministry to the poor fundamentally misunderstand her mission. And yet, in these modern times where people see much more prospect for successfully healing the sick than people every could have imagined in the Middle Ages when many of the great mendicant orders first came into being, people often confuse success in the goal of attaining a positive medical outcome with the traditional mendicant goals of comforting the sick and helping them prepare to meet God.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

How it used to be done

The Opinionated Homeschooler gives us an enjoyable history lesson on the Lenten Fast.

Cons, but never "Crunchy"

The Wall Street Journal had a review of Rod Dreher's new book Crunchy Cons in today's paper. I haven't read the book, but I've read several pieces by Dreher on the concept of "crunchy cons". It's a phrase I've never liked -- why should anyone of a conservative persuasion who likes food that tastes good and wants to homeschool their children be pigeon-holed into a rather assinine-sounding category like "crunchy", which has connotations of outdated 70s reactionism?

Well, Jonah Goldberg, a damn fine writer, and a conservative, has read my mind and distilled my thoughts into a clear, devastating critique of the term "crunchy cons" (this is from a column from 2002).

One small example: Rod writes, "The crunchy cons, religious or not, share a belief that something has gone seriously wrong in contemporary mass society, and are grasping for "authenticity" (a word you hear often from this group) amid a raging flood of media-driven consumer culture." Rod is an excellent reporter, so I am sure this is true. But wouldn't it be more accurate to simply drop the "crunchy" from that sentence and simply note that conservatives believe there's a problem with contemporary mass society? Indeed, Russell Kirk — certainly no crunchy con despite the reverence crunchy cons hold for him — lamented in The Conservative Mind, "a world smudged by industrialism, standardized by the masses, consolidated by government." In other words, crunchy cons aren't worried about such things because they are crunchy, they're worried about such things because they're conservatives.

What we as conservatives should also be worried about is that the crunchy ones among us are, according to Rod, looking for "authenticity" in such superficial things as organic foods and loose-fitting casual wear (a subject I've addressed before). This points to the internal contradiction within much of this crunchy-con stuff. Rod insists that crunchy cons are different from the leftists who impose profound ideological meaning on their consumer choice because crunchy cons enjoy organic food simply because it tastes better (taste tests have never demonstrated this, by the way).

Well, if that's the case, who cares? Some conservatives, I'm sure, love French food and other conservatives prefer Thai. But we do not divide rich philosophical movements according to such criteria. Do we really want to say that there is an ideologically coherent and distinct group of conservatives who enjoy better-tasting food? If we do, what's to stop future NR cover stories about that rogue fifth column of conservatives who "actually enjoy sex"?

And, if this is not the case, if there are conservatives who are looking to find "authenticity" in what they buy and what they wear, that is serious stuff — serious in a bad way. Because, it means that these conservatives cannot find meaning in the Permanent Things after all. Rather, their search for meaning is a tale largely told in their credit-card receipts.

Conservatism is about ideology, not "lifestyle". The fact that Darwin brews his own beer simply means that he enjoys brewing beer and thinks it tastes better. It has nothing to do with "back to the earth" or "crunchiness" or any other silly label. He likes brewing beer, dammit! There's absolutely no need to mold that inclination to fit a category that is in itself a reaction to stereotypes of conservatives. There are no doubt liberals who enjoy brewing beer, and liberals who enjoy Pabst Blue Ribbon, and you know what? It just doesn't matter, because the type of beer you drink ought not to have ideological implications. It may be a reflection of your personal tastes or your pocketbook, but to base a movement around such, frankly, ephemeral critera is, well, ephemeral. Same with those who would claim that homeschooling is a sign of crunchy conservatism. No, homeschooling is a sign, generally, that you care about the quality of your child's education, and it crosses political and religious barriers and income-tax brackets.

And why should we, as conservatives, buy into the liberal stereotype that conservatives are bloodless, big-business minions who are at the same time so cheap as to only shop at Wal-Mart because only price matters, and yet so materialistic as to drop obscene amounts of money on McMansion temples to square footage? Sure, I know some conservatives who only shop at Wal-Mart and live in McMansions, yet in other respects they're as counter-cultural as they come (and they consider themselves "crunchy cons", to boot). The point is that conservatives have complained for years that the media doesn't understand them and constantly mis-represents them, and yet by creating this crunchy con label we are effectively saying, "All the stereotypes are true! And that's why it's so cool that we're bucking them! Look, we appreciate funky houses and organic food -- that makes us hip! Sign up here, kids..."

Jonah says it all better than I do, though, so go check him out.
We are told that "The crunchy-con bookshelf — and because they eschew television, they have lots of bookshelves — sags with works by conservatives like G. K. Chesterton, Richard Weaver, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, the Southern Agrarians, and Michael Oakeshott." The problem here should be obvious. With the possible exception of Tolkien, these books should be on any conservative's shelf. One need not enjoy cereals that taste like kitty litter to appreciate Richard Weaver and you need not have read a word of Richard Weaver to enjoy your kitty-litter breakfast. In short, the two have nothing to do with each other. Identifying conservatives by what they eat or wear is fine I suppose, if you want to sell clothes or food to conservatives. But I'm at a loss to understand why conservatives will benefit from looking at themselves through the eyes of direct-mail marketers.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Contraception and 'Human Continuum'

Bearing Blog has a very good essay up about contraception and the 'continuum' theory of living. She argues, and argues persuasively, that modern contraception (while it achieves the same end of population/family control) deviates much farther from 'natural' human processes than infanticide as practices in ancient cultures because it fundamentally changes our understanding of an activity that many humans consider important: sex.

Materialist Toast

There's nothing like a good bloodletting book review -- and Scott Carson links to a real corker. Leon Weiseltier reviews Daniel Dennett's latest in the NY Times. Weiseltier opens strong and never lets up:

The question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell" is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.
From later on in the review:
It will be plain that Dennett's approach to religion is contrived to evade religion's substance. He thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism. But the reason he imputes to the human creatures depicted in his book is merely a creaturely reason. Dennett's natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason. It portrays reason in service to natural selection, and as a product of natural selection. But if reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? The power of reason is owed to the independence of reason, and to nothing else. (In this respect, rationalism is closer to mysticism than it is to materialism.) Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.
Scott Carson has some great things to say on the review and on Dennett in general as well. For anyone who feels like materialists like Dennett get too much respect too much of the time, this is a must read.

Friday, February 17, 2006

It never rains but it pours

The Darwins are normally a clan of robust health and boisterous activity, but every now and then we take a notion to all come down sick at the same time. Keeps things interesting, doncha know. Well, today is one of them days, and it involves the popular ear infection.

The girls are recovering from their bouts, but Darwin and I spent last night fetching medicine and blankets for each other. My head feels like it's going to explode, and he has fever and chills and sore throat -- it's very pathetic. So blogging may be light today while we hit the antibiotics and try to clear this thing out of the house before baby's very imminent arrival.

On another note -- you may wonder what a classics major does with his degree. Pop on over to Rick Lugari's to see how Darwin aided Pope Benedict XVI with some Latin. And then vote for Rick in the Catholic Blog Awards! And Jay! And Julie D.!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

All Politics Are Local

So don't forget to drop by the Catholic Blog Awards and vote for girl-next-door JulieD (Happy Catholic) and local boys Rick Lugari (City of God) and Jay Anderson (Pro Ecclesia).

And, of course, Pontifications for "most theological".

Otherwise, let things fall where they will.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Practicing Obedience

Every now and then I wonder, "If I were in the convent, how would I handle the whole 'obedience' issue?" Now, it seems, I'm to find out. My midwife tells me that I have borderline high blood pressure and should be laying down most of the time. This is a task that I find most onerous -- partly because there's Stuff to be done, and partly because it's boring, and partly because my girls are always into something. (At this very moment I'm putting off going downstairs to see what Babs is doing with what sounds like the box of cheerios. I heard her exclaim, "Oh, what a big mess! Naughty!")

But if I don't want my blood pressure to cross that borderline and actually become high -- putting me in line for true bed rest or, God forbid, a hospital birth -- I have to obey the midwife on this and stay down most of the day. It's hard to focus on the eventual benefits when in the short term laying around means a messier house, too much tv for the girls, more work for Darwin, and boredom for me, but I suppose this is a valuable opportunity to practice being obedient even when it's inconvenient to me.

Still, it wouldn't hurt if you all said a prayer for my blood pressure to lower a bit, or -- better yet! -- for baby to come a bit early.

The World's Short Policeman

When Franc decided to warn the world that yes-indeedy it is a nuclear power and so any terrorists contemplating attacking her should take notice and remember that there would be a cost -- everyone wrote it off as empty bluster. Victor Davis Hanson wrong in National Review that this was another sign that Europe was finding herself to be without defense against the threat of terrorism.

I think that's probably right. However, let's think for just a minute about the other possibility. What if using nuclear weapons in response to a truly major terrorist attack (and I think we'd have to be talking about a nuke, dirty bomb or major chemical/biological attack) really is on the table for France?

In a sense, it would make a lot of sense. Everyone was quick to point out that France in particular and Europe generally does not have the military capacity and will to sweep into a country via conventional means the way the US has in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, instead of their lack of conventional means being proof that they wouldn't use nukes, perhaps it's the reason they would.

For a long time now, studies have shown that policeman who are at the very lowest end of the size and fitness standards for a major urban police force tend to use their guns far more than officers at the upper end. The logic is pretty simple. Not only is a 6'5" 250lb officer less likely to be physically assaulted, but when assaulted (assuming it's not by someone else already wielding a gun) he's a lot less likely to feel that he needs to escalate by drawing his sidearm. However, a 5'8" 140lb officer is much more likely to feel that he's out classed by an assailant, and draw his weapon. Large officers are more likely to try to subdue suspects with their night sticks. Smaller officers and female officers are more likely to draw their guns and threaten to shoot.

Just because countries like France and Germany have negligible military capacity doesn't mean they have any less will to exist. If anything, they're probably more insecure in certain ways. Certainly, up to this point, old Europe has been content to sit back and assume that because they're so tolerant no one would think of attacking them. But if push really comes to shove and they find themselves convinced that they face a major military threat from terrorists or a terrorist supporting regime, they may be far more likely than the US to simply nuke first and ask questions later.

After all, we have the military capacity to go into a country like Afghanistan, drive out the Taliban, and stay around to try to establish democracy. For a country like France, it might be far easier (and seemingly lower cost) to simply turn the country into a glassy crater.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fighting the Evil Empire

Whether as a sign of intellectual curiosity or general aimlessness, I often find myself reading about random subjects late at night. The other night, I found myself reading about Finland in World War II.

It's an interesting subject. Finland was invaded by the USSR in 1939, at pretty much the same time and they occupied the Baltic states and split Poland with Germany.

In the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Finns successfully slowed the Soviet advance, and eventually the USSR agreed to a peace treaty. Finland was forced to cede the parts of her territory she had not yet won back from the Soviets, but 90% of the country's territory remained intact. This itself was an amazing military feat for such a small country. It's also interesting in that they essentially out-Russianed the Russians. Just as Napoleon's and Hitler's armies bogged down and froze while trying to invade Russia, the Soviets bogged down and froze while trying to attack Finland, which was even better versed in winter warfare than Russia.

Finland resistance was the subject of much international sympathy, and volunteers from around the world flocked to the country, though few actually saw action. (The young Christopher Lee went to Finland as a volunteer, but returned home without seeing action. He later served in the RAF and British intelligence forces.)

During the brief peace, Finland fortified its new border with Russia, rebuilt its armed forces, and sought to forge new alliances. However, the only country interested in providing serious support was Nazi Germany. Germany offered to support Finland, thus providing a northern front to Germany's planned invasion of Russia. Finland eventually accepted, and from 1941 to 1944 waged the Continuation War against the Soviet Union, with the support of the Nazis.

In the end, the USSR's total defeat on the Nazis on the Eastern Front left Finland without an ally, and so Finland was forced to make peace with the USSR again, returning to borders very much the same as those forced on them at the end of the Winter War.

Nonetheless, Finland remained independent and retained a democratic form a government and a market economy, despite sitting on the USSR's doorstep.

One of the things that struck me as interesting reading about all this was the way in which Finland continued to pursue a single, wholly just priority throughout World War II: defending itself against the USSR and an trying to regain conquered territory. However, because of the shifting alliances during the war, Finland found itself first on the side of the Allies and later (at least somewhat) aligned with the Nazis.

Now, allying with the Nazis is certainly not a socially acceptable thing to have done. But then, we quite willingly threw in with Stalin in order to defeat the Nazis and Japan. Was that, in a sense, any different? The general wisdom seems to be that it was morally acceptable for the Allies to work with the USSR in order to defeat Germany. And yet, it seems to me the same moral calculus pretty much puts Finland alliance with Germany above blame.

The US perhaps recognized this, because it never declared war on Finland, despite the fact that Finland was allied with Germany in fighting Russia. Britain declared war on Finland in 1942, but never followed up on that with any actions.

Although I'd have to read more about it to come to any reliable conclusions, it seems like it's an interesting case of a just war waged in cooperation with a very unjust ally -- the other side of coin that is our WW2 alliance with Stalin.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My Chocolate Bar!

You'll remember my missing chocolate bar, of course, and the anguish that I went through in trying to find it. Ladies and gentlemen, I have found it! I feel like the woman in the gospel who lost the gold coin and swept the whole house, except that I didn't sweep the whole house, and I found it by accident.

Babs was trying to see what I was doing at the counter, so she pulled out a plastic pitcher and stood on it. (To the girl who wants to climb, everything is a step stool.) I told her no and opened the lower cabinet to put the pitcher away, and there was my chocolate bar sitting in plain sight, large as life! Oddly enough, I'd searched that cabinet and had been in and out of it for the last few days. I wonder if one of the girls had hidden it inside the pitcher (not used all that often) and it was dumped out when Babs pressed the pitcher into service.

Whatever the reason, I'm very pleased. Rejoice with me, o my friends, for that which was lost has been found!

On Zeal

I'm not sure I could get away with block-quoting myself as a source without sounding pretentious, but if I had something this worthwhile to say, maybe I could. Here's Rerum Novarum (the blog, not the encyclical) on the virtue (and potential temptations to vice) of zeal:

Zeal for the salvation of souls is a sublime virtue, and yet how many errors and sins are committed daily in its name! Evil is never done more effectually and with greater security, says St. Francis de Sales, than when one does it believing he is working for the glory of God.

The saints themselves can be mistaken in this delicate matter. We see a proof of this in the incident related to the Apostles Saint James and Saint John; for Our Lord reprimanded them for asking Him to cause fire from heaven to fall upon the Samaritans. (Luke, IX., 54.)

Acts of zeal are like coins the stamp upon which is necessary to examine attentively, as there are more counterfeits than good ones. Zeal to be pure should be accompanied by great humility, for it is of all virtues the one which self-love most easily glides. When it does so, zeal is apt to become imprudent, presumptuous, unjust, bitter. Let us consider these characteristics in detail, viewing them, for the sake of greater clearness, in their practical bearings....

"If your zeal is bitter", says St. James, "it is not wisdom descending from on high, but earthly, sensual, diabolical". (James III, 14-15.) These words of an Apostle should furnish matter of reflection for those persons who, whilst making profession of piety, are so prone to irritability, so harsh and rude in their manner and language, that they might be taken for angels in church and for demons elsewhere.

The value and utility of zeal are in proportion to its tolerance and amiability. True zeal is the offspring of charity; it should then, resemble its mother and show itself like to her in all things. "Charity", says St. Paul, "is patient, is kind, is not ambitious, and seeks not her own." (1 Cor. XIII, 4-5.)...

Never allow your zeal to make you overeager to correct others, says [St. Francis de Sales]; and when you do it remember that the most important thing to consider is the choice of the moment. A caution deferred can be given another time: one given inopportunely is not only fruitless, but moreover paralyzes beforehand all the good that might have have subsequently been done.

Be zealous therefore, ardently zealous for the salvation of your neighbour, and to further make use of whatever means God has placed in your power; but do not exceed these limits nor disquiet yourself about the good you are unable to do, for God can accomplish it through others. In conclusion, zeal according to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, should always have truth for its foundation, indulgence for its companion, mildness for its guide, prudence for its counsellor and director.

I've always found intemperate zeal a very strong temptation, and I think it is often such for orthodox Catholics. After all, we have the truth, and we see it being flagrantly ignored not only by 'the world' but also, it often seems, by the majority of our co-religionists. Nor are these disagreements merely over small matters (which hasn't stopped people from getting very, very ,very worked up over questions like communion rails and reception under both forms) but over moral issues of the very greatest gravity.

We live in a depraved world (all people, in all times have lived in pretty depraved worlds) and at times the temptation is great to simply shout: "Don't you freaks understand that half our children are born out of wedlock, the permanence of marriage has become a joke, porn is everywhere and we're killing over a million of our own children every year? What's wrong with you?"

And yet, much though all of this demands our outrage (As the bumper sticker says: If you're not outraged, you haven't been paying attention.) the 'freaks' are generally not going to listen to people calling them such.

Politeness and (to use the much abused word) ecumenism contain their own inherent temptations. We know all too many examples of people who have come to feel that the mere strength of an opinion or belief disqualifies it from being true. (Thus, all the demands that the pro-life movement 'calm down'.) Likewise, we know of people who take the step from respecting the beliefs of others to claiming that others (mutually contradictory) beliefs are in fact equally true, or at least "true for them".

Aristotle held that virtue is always found in the mean between the vices of two extremes. Certainly, in zeal this seems to be the case.

Baby says, "No dice."

Well, it was shaping up to be an exciting weekend, but in the end, nothing happened.

Yesterday morning, after being up and down with girls all night, I started to feel back-achy and queasy and was having Braxton-Hicks contractions every five to ten minutes. Whenever I was moving around, baby was sitting low and putting much pressure on my nether regions, which was uncomfortable. Still, no real contractions. So we went to church -- no further developments for me, but Babs had to be taken out and spanked twice, so at least someone else was having pressure applied to her bottom as well. We went grocery shopping, and as I waddled and puffed around the store I wondered if Baby was going to make her grand appearance this evening. Still, no real contractions.

I went home and took a nap. I eyed dinner, but for once ate only ONE slice of pizza, and that unwillingly. I lay down again, this time with Babs against my back for a bit of counter-pressure. I went to the bathroom every three minutes. Still, no real contractions.

And this morning? Nothing! I feel perfectly fine, and Smaskig is wriggling and surging away happily inside, content to stay there until she's good and ready. Darwin grumbles because she could have gotten him out of a hard week at work by showing up last night. And now that I'm up and feeling better, Noogs is down with a fever and the nose. Urgh.

I suppose Baby would have been 2 1/2 weeks early and that's pushing it a bit, but the thought of being pregnant much longer becomes onerous.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cartoon Madness

You think the Muslim cartoons are stirring up outrage? Check out these scoops...

Maureen Martin reports on the drastic consequences of cartoons mocking the LDS.
DAR-ES-SALAAM, TANZANIA -- Latter Day Saints (LDS) across the world have reacted with mild irritation in response to a Tanzanian's newspaper editor's decision to run cartoons mocking the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' well-known genealogy service.

"This just isn't very nice," said Elder Adam Hunington, 19, of the cartoons that appeared in the online version of the Dar-Es-Salaam Express News. "This cartoon shows a man setting his computer on fire after having trouble finding his ancestors on our genealogy website. I've never found our genealogy service website to be that hard to maneuver. This cartoon seems a bit unfair to me."

Twelve cartoons of the Choir and genealogy service ran in the Dar-Es-Salaam Express News over the weekend. Editor Mfaume Wakil said he ran the contest to "shake things up a bit." "I don't think anyone was too upset over it, though," he said. "Although when I waved to a couple of Mormon missionaries this morning, they just biked on by and didn't wave back or smile. Maybe they are pouting a bit."
Iowahawk, back from the dead, gives us a Pulitzer-worthy glimpse of the tensions roiling the Midwest in the wake of the Vince Lombardi caricatures.

Green Bay, WI - Like a pot of bratwurst left unattended at a Lambeau Field pregame party, simmering tensions in the strife-torn Midwest boiled over once again today as rioting mobs of green-and-gold clad youth and plump farm wives rampaged through Wisconsin Denny’s and IHOPs, burning Texas toast and demanding apologies and extra half-and-half.

Cartoon that shocked Midwest

The spark igniting the latest tailgate hibachi of unrest: a Texas newsletter's publication of caricatures of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

Protestors demonstrated against the images throughout the Badger State yesterday, with violent egging and cow-tipping incidents reported in Oconomowac, Pewaukee, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Antigo, Oshkosh, Waubeno, Wauwautosa, Waunewoc, Wyocena, Waubeka, and Washawonamowackapeepee.

Some of the most dramatic skirmishes were centered around Kenosha, where a mob of masked snowmobilers invaded the Texas Roadhouse on I-94, briefly holding the margarita machine hostage. They were later seen storming the beverage department at Woodman's, where they purchased several cases of Point and a pack of Merit menthols, and later at the Brat Stop classic rock/sausage outlet, where they were reported angrily "boogie-ing out" on air guitar to featured entertainment Molly Hatchett.

They report; you decide

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Meme of Four

Scott Carson at Examined Life has tagged me for this meme of four-ish thing. And since it is, as Pooh would say, That Sort Of Day, I'm getting right to it...

4 jobs you have had in your life
  • Sales Research Assistant
  • Marketing Manager
  • Web Designer
  • Data Analyst (my current job description is actually Business Intelligence Analyst, but that seems like an oxymoron)
4 movies you could watch over and over
(Not necessarily the same thing as my favorite movies -- but a much needed category)
  • The Thin Man ("What hit me?" "The sixth martini." -- "It says you got shot twice in the tabloids." "They didn't get anywhere near my tabloids...")
  • Mission Impossible
  • Ronin
  • Men In Black
4 places you have lived
  • "The Valley" in Los Angeles (home of the girls of the same name -- though didn't know any)
  • Steubenville, OH
  • Whittier, CA
  • Round Rock, TX
4 TV shows you love to watch
  • Fullmetal Alchemist
  • Samurai Champloo
  • Masterpiece Theater
  • LOST
4 places you have been on vacation
  • Europe (seemed like I mostly slept on trains, but I think there were some cities I visited as well)
  • Seattle
  • Cincinnati
  • Actually, I very seldom make it to vacation...
4 websites you visit daily
  • Forums
  • Examined Life (I don't know why, because he only posts ever two or three days, which causes endless disappointment)
  • Mark Shea (because he does post every day and a little aggravation helps wake me up in the morning)
  • Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex
4 of your favorite foods
  • Sushi
  • Our Homemade Pizza (on pizza stone)
  • Cheese
  • Alcohol (I thought of saying "beer" but one hates to be narrow minded)
4 places you'd rather be right now
  • A higher income bracket
  • Other than that, I'm pretty satisfied with where I am. Can I just be four income brackets higher and leave it at that?
4 bloggers you are tagging

Decline and Fall

New Oxford Review has been must discussed of late, and Christopher Blosser links to several of the posts about it on various blogs. He also pretty much sums up the feelings that I have these days towards NOR.

God of the Gaps

Tom over at Disputations (which is one of those well written blogs that I am always telling myself I should read more regularly) has up a good and thought provoking post about the dangers of the "God of the gaps" mentality.

The post, and some of the discussion upon it, opens up a number of other interesting questions, from my point of view. However, all of the women in my life are asleep right now, and I've been trying for weeks to finish reading Steven E. Ambrose's D-Day. So more later...

I Am Honored

Clearly this quiz has seen the real me:

You scored as Babylon 5 (Babylon 5). The universe is erupting into war and your government picks the wrong side. How much worse could things get? It doesn't matter, because no matter what you have your friends and you�ll do the right thing. In the end that will be all that matters. Now if only the Psi Cops would leave you alone.

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Thanks to JulieD for making this moment possible...

Friday, February 10, 2006

What Would Muhammad Do?

An Islamic blogger asks, What would Muhammad do in regards to the cartoon fracas? To all the rioting he says:

What in God's Most Holy Name is going on here? What sort of response is this? Is this what the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) - the one whom is supposedly being defended by these Muslims - would do in this situation? Absolutely not. I mean, let's examine briefly what the Prophet (pbuh) did do when he was confronted with very similar situations. On the very first day of the Prophet's (pbuh) ministry, his own uncle, Abu Lahab, interrupted him and yelled out, "May you perish!" The Prophet (pbuh) did nothing.

And he correctly observes that extremists on both sides of the European culture war have been all to eager to fan the flames:

Now, this is total speculation on my part, but I believe in my heart of hearts that the publishers of these cartoons think that Muslims are nothing but a bunch of barbarians. To prove it, they intentionally published offensive and provocative cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a horrible manner so that Muslims will threaten innocent Europeans, shoot guns in the air, and burn Danish flags. And you know what? Muslims, by and large, took the bait and ended up looking like barbarians. Isn't that a stupid thing to do? I think so. Don't you think so?

His conclusions:

(1) I believe in freedom of expression. Everyone should be free to express themselves, even if it means offending others. Yet, even though we have this freedom, we should exercise some responsibility. We in America have freedom of speech and expression, but we understand this to mean that we can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. With freedom comes responsibility. Even though someone can call the Prophet a "terrorist" and "demon-possessed pedophile," it does not mean he or she should do so. He or she should refrain from doing so, not because their freedom is curtailed, but because it is out of respect for the faith of other people.

I mean, no one would ever think of publishing a cartoon depicting Jesus (pbuh) as a Catholic priest being hauled away in handcuffs because he sexually abused a young boy. Such a cartoon, if ever published, would deeply and profoundly offend me as a Muslim. Christ (pbuh) is too pure, too holy, too noble to be maligned like that. The same should go for the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

(2) With that being said, this same principle must also apply to Muslims as well. It is well known that Arab and Muslim newspapers across the world routinely publish cartoons that are very offensive to non-Muslims, most especially Jews. This is wrong. If it is wrong to publish a cartoon maligning the Prophet (pbuh), it is also wrong to publish cartoons that are offensive to Jewish or Christian sensibilities. It goes both ways, and Muslims should understand and respect this.

I think he's right, both on the principle of self limitation in free expression and that if they want respect Muslims need to do a much better job of toning down their own religious and ethnic prejudices. However, I must say that I think he's sadly over-optimistic in saying that no one would ever think of portraying Jesus as an abusive priest. I suspect all too many 'elite' in both Europe and America would consider that a completely valid expression of their freedom of expression.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What We Know (Part II)

Last time around, I proposed that knowledge might be divided into two categories, internal and external, and I proposed some basic sub-divisions of internal knowledge.

External knowledge took some time to get my thoughts organized to put up even a first pass, but I think I've come up with something that's ready to propose.

As mentioned previously, external knowledge is that knowledge which one acquires from some source outside one's self. There are, it seems to me, two sub-categories within external knowledge: received knowledge and sub-created knowledge or knowledge by analysis.

Received knowledge is essentially "data" which we receive from the outside world. Received knowledge is thus best divided into categories according to the source of that data. The categories that seem readily apparent to me are:

Knowledge by observation -- This would include everything we perceive via our senses. However, it seems important to me that we be clear on the what it is that we perceive, vs what we conclude about the nature of the world ( sub-creative/analytic knowledge) based on those perceptions. Thus an observation might be "when I let go of the ball, it appeared to fall towards the ground" while the most basic level of analysis is "when I let go of the ball, it fell" and one might eventually add to that a further level of analysis: "all dropped objects fall".

Knowledge by testimony -- This compromises knowledge of the outside world which we receive, not directly through out own senses, but rather through the spoken, written, or visual testimony of others. So, for instance, I know by testimony that Washington DC is the capital of the US, but I've never actually been there. So in an observational sense, I have no knowledge of DC, even though I know a fair amount about its past and present by testimony. One might know by testimony something that someone else found out by observation or by revelation or relationship (see below). One may also receive by testimony the analysis made by some other person. This gets a little tricky, but I'll try to touch on it more later.

Knowledge by revelation -- Certain things cannot be derived strictly from observation and analysis thereon, but can be revealed to us from an outside source. Religious mysteries such as the trinity and the Eucharist fall into this category. I imagine that all the readers here are like me in that they have not directly received knowledge by revelation, but rather have knowledge by testimony (received from Tradition and Scripture) of these revelations. However, it's important to remember this is a possible source of knowledge.

Relational Knowledge -- There may be a better name for this, but my purpose here is to capture elements of knowledge which find their source not in observation of events through the senses but rather through a direct personal relationship with someone. Thus, I know that my wife loves me not because she cooks dinner for me, or because she kisses me, or because she tells me that she loves me, but rather through a direct experience of our relationship. Certainly, one can be wrong in one's understanding of what the information one receives in this way means (thus, I might believe based on relational knowledge that my wife loved me, but it might in fact be the case that she only wanted my money -- more fool her...) but I think it's clear that there is a form of 'data' that we receive in this way -- separate from any information we gather through our senses.

Sub-created knowledge or knowledge by analysis consists of those conclusions that we draw about the world based on the information we receive into our minds via the above means.

We sub-divide sub-created knowledge into fields of study or knowledge based on both the subject matter and the means of analysis used (theology, metaphysics, science, history, economics, etc.) However, I think the truly important thing to understand about knowledge by analysis is that it is sub-created knowledge. What do I mean by that?

In his Republic, Plato describes a cave in which prisoners mistake shadows for real creatures. Plato meant the image to represent the difficulty of discerning the nature of the forms form their imperfect instantiations in the physical world. The image is apt, but it might well also describe our attempt to gain accurate knowledge of the outside world based on the evidence of our senses.

There is, outside of us, a real world containing real things that work according to real laws. And yet, our knowledge of it is limited not only by our ability to perceive the outside world accurately (say, the inability of a colorblind man to fully appreciate the color of a rose) but also by our ability to understand what we perceive. Sometimes this failure to perceive is based on poor or incomplete observation, as in the story of the blind men investigating the elephant. (Each of them experiences only a small part of the whole elephant, and forms a mental construct of the elephant in his mind, based on that incomplete perception, which bears little resemblance to the real elephant.)

Having accurate knowledge of something consists not merely of making accurate observations via the senses, but of constructing within one's mind a working model of the thing observed which successfully matches the real thing.

Thus, my understanding of how a manual transmission works is good or bad depending on how closely the image I have in my mind of how a manual transmission works (and why it is making that peculiar grinding sound) matches the actual makeup of the transmission I am dealing with.

My understanding of the structure of the solar system is good or bad to the extent which the model of the solar system (both the bodies in it, their makeup, and their motion and interaction) matches the real solar system that exists outside of me.

This holds true not just for physical objects but for supernatural objects, forms and systems of thought:

My understanding of God is perfect or imperfect to the extant that it resembles or does not resemble the God whom I shall meet upon departing this mortal world.

My understanding of what 'Justice' is accurate to the extent that the ideal of justice which I have in my mind matches the universal form of 'Justice' -- of which each of our understandings is but an incomplete and imperfect copy.

The purpose of different types of analysis is thus to provide a set of techniques for producing certain kinds of sub-created understanding/models successfully. Science is meant to provide one with the best set of methodologies possible for determining the physical causes of a physical process. Metaphysics is meant to provide the best methodologies for coming to an understanding of being, essence and teleology. Psychology is meant to provide a structure for coming to an accurate understanding of why other people think and feel the way they do. Economics attempts to provide a set of tools for developing accurate models of how people will spend their money. Etc. Each methodology uses different modeling techniques and is meant to be applied to different sorts of systems. And in each case, the goal is to produce a sub-creation within one's own mind which as closely as possible mirrors the real world outside oneself.

Just War, Terrorism, and Empire

Bearing Blog as an post up asking interesting and difficult questions about the nature of just war as regards a diffused threat such as terrorism.

I've sometimes wondered if one of the difficulties in applying just war doctrine to some of our current problems is that our thinking on just war was mostly developed during the medieval period, when there was indeed a "community of nations", all based on at least somewhat similar principles, in Europe.

In some ways, our current situation seems to me vaguely like that which faced Rome in the period from 100BC to 30AD. Picture America as late republican through early imperial Rome. A large, wealthy country, only recently (last century) a major player on the world stage. Very proud of its middle class family virtues and republican form of government -- despite the fact that the ruling elite has almost entirely abandoned those ideals.

Picture Europe as the aging Helenistic world of the same era: Old, cultured, tremendously proud of its intellectual and cultural heritage, and yet producing few thinkers or artists of the level of those who came several hundred years before, demographically imploding, morally corrupt, politically Byzantine and militarily powerless.

Now, Rome felt it to be a necessity for security and stability that it begin to take possession of outlying, unstable countries and put in place stable, friendly governments there. Later, as their innate distrust of empire wore away and was replaced with an increasing need for funds and citizens, they simply started annexing outlying countries.

And, of course, there were the 'barbarian' tribes and countries outside the Roman sphere of influence. During certain periods they and the Romans pretty much left each other alone. But as they became dangerous and unstable the Romans felt that security necessitated that they fight a series of low level defensive and offensive actions -- either conquering or driving back various tribes.

How does just war doctrine deal with such a situation? Should the western world simply try to keep the 'barbarian' hordes out? Does it try to set up stable client states to keep the natives under control. (Our record there certainly isn't good.) Does it do its best to police the unstable countries at its periphery and hope that eventually cultural conquest will achieve what military conquest cannot?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ghetto Pope!

This, from the clever Man with Black Hat:
I once saw an episode of Pimp my Ride with my brother, who assured me that the guys up at the seminary were avid devotees.