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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cross-over Fiction

Fanfic that must never be penned:

You may know her as the bright-eyed Victorian beauty popularized by the American Girl series, but by 1912 Samantha Parkington was a seductive 18-year-old heiress traveling home from her European Grand Tour. Educated, liberated, and uninhibited, she had turned heads across the continent, but not until the voyage home did she meet her match in the capable arms of the son of the 15th Duke of Denver, 22-year-old Lord Peter Wimsey. (Peter, a recent Oxford graduate, has been sent to America by his uncle to forget the flighty but beautiful Barbara.) The ship on which their passions ignite? A vessel as immense as their desires, the majestic, unsinkable Titanic.

Dear Lord, stop us now...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Happy Thanksgiving to All, and a Thought

A happy Thanksgiving to all our readers.

As the red wine cranberry sauce chills in the fridge and MrsDarwin roasts vegetables (no, we're not dispensing with the bird, but we're heading over to a large gathering to which our contributions will be cranberry sauce, roast veg, stuffing and beer) it occurs to me that while the culinary aspects of Thanksgiving continue to go strong in modern America, the reason for taking a day in November to give thanks for our blessings seems arbitrary -- other than opening the "holiday season".

This is one of the ways in which our modern society has become much removed from the rhythms of agriculture -- and I would argue from the natural rhythms of life generally. In a modern supermarket, all produce is available year round, fresh and ready to eat. Nor is there any real doubt that food will always be there. If you don't have food, the feeling goes, it is because someone is denying you your rights.

In a society in which people are closely dependent on the local harvest, there was real and immediate reason to be thankful once the harvest was safely gathered and stored. Plenty was worth celebrating and being truly grateful for, because there was the ever present possibility that a bad harvest would result in widespread hunger.

As we survey the groaning banquet table this afternoon, we modern Americans would do well to recall that food comes from somewhere -- and indeed that it either comes or it doesn't. One may talk of rights to food and shelter and medical care and such all day long. But at the most basic, human level: our existence and comfort depends on those who till the soil -- and to all others who, dealing in more modern trades, produce the things we have or desire.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Raising The Dead

If, as I did, you spent much of your youth reading about creatures of the past, and especially if you had a chance to frequent museums, as I did the Page Museum at Los Angeles' La Brea Tar Pits, the idea of seeing some of the large land mammals which went extinct within the last 50,000 years brought back to life can't help seeming a bit attractive.

Who could resist the chance to see an American Mastodon (above) or a Smilodon, or "saber-toothed cat" (below) alive again?

Scientists are increasingly thinking that it would in fact be possible to produce live specimens of recently extinct mammals, such as the Woolly Mammoth, which died out in Europe and America (like the above creatures) only around 8,000 B.C.

The cause of these extinctions was probably dual: changing climate after the end of the last glacial period, and excessive hunting by humans. That virtually all large mammal species (among them the American Horse and American Camel) other than the American Bison vanished from North America shortly after the flourishing of human populations here is probably not entirely a coincidence. (A similar pattern occurred in other parts of the world, notably Australia where a number of large marsupial species died out right after the arrival of humans.)

Given how recent these extinctions were, there's fairly "fresh" genetic material still around from them, and fairly close living relatives around to serve as surrogate parents, so of course as genetic technology advances scientists have become increasingly interested in trying to bring back one or more of these recently extinct species by means of using original genetic and cloning type procedures. The New York Times reports:
Scientists are talking for the first time about the old idea of resurrecting extinct species as if this staple of science fiction is a realistic possibility, saying that a living mammoth could perhaps be regenerated for as little as $10 million....

A scientific team headed by Stephan C. Schuster and Webb Miller at Pennsylvania State University reports in Thursday’s issue of Nature that it has recovered a large fraction of the mammoth genome from clumps of mammoth hair. Mammoths, ice-age relatives of the elephant, were hunted by the modern humans who first learned to inhabit Siberia some 22,000 years ago. The mammoths fell extinct in both their Siberian and North American homelands toward the end of the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago.

Dr. Schuster and Dr. Miller said there was no technical obstacle to decoding the full mammoth genome, which they believe could be achieved for a further $2 million. They have already been able to calculate that the mammoth’s genes differ at some 400,000 sites on its genome from that of the African elephant.

There is no present way to synthesize a genome-size chunk of mammoth DNA, let alone to develop it into a whole animal. But Dr. Schuster said a shortcut would be to modify the genome of an elephant’s cell at the 400,000 or more sites necessary to make it resemble a mammoth’s genome. The cell could be converted into an embryo and brought to term by an elephant, a project he estimated would cost some $10 million. “This is something that could work, though it will be tedious and expensive,” he said.
I must admit, I find this a rather exciting idea. However, it seems that no sooner do people come up with the ability to do something like this than they get other ideas:
The same would be technically possible with Neanderthals, whose full genome is expected to be recovered shortly, but there would be several ethical issues in modifying modern human DNA to that of another human species.
Love the charming understatement of "there would be several ethical issues in modifying modern human DNA to that of another human species", eh?

Oh, but fear not. We've got some deep thinkers here who are working hard to make sure that they don't engage in any research that treads ethically thin ice:
But the process of genetically engineering a human genome into the Neanderthal version would probably raise many objections, as would several other aspects of such a project. “Catholic teaching opposes all human cloning, and all production of human beings in the laboratory, so I do not see how any of this could be ethically acceptable in humans,” said Richard Doerflinger, an official with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dr. Church said there might be an alternative approach that would “alarm a minimal number of people.” The workaround would be to modify not a human genome but that of the chimpanzee, which is some 98 percent similar to that of people. The chimp’s genome would be progressively modified until close enough to that of Neanderthals, and the embryo brought to term in a chimpanzee.

“The big issue would be whether enough people felt that a chimp-Neanderthal hybrid would be acceptable, and that would be broadly discussed before anyone started to work on it,” Dr. Church said.
I'm sorry, perhaps I shouldn't be flip and derisive, but in the words of my generation: Is this guy for real?

Does he really imagine that the big moral objection that people have to the idea of cloning Neanderthals is just a matter of whether a human egg or chimp egg is used?

The Neanderthals were around until about 25,000 years ago. They made complex tools, wore simple jewelry, made clothes, buried their dead, used fire, and there's fairly strong evidence that they also created art and had equal speech abilities to modern humans. One of the main controversies about Neanderthals is whether they are a separate species in genus homo or a separate sub species within homo sapiens (homo sapiens sapiens vs. homo sapiens neandertalis).

Even leaving aside thorny religious questions (of which I think there are definitely many -- given that I don't think creating genetic knock-offs of modern humans is remotely acceptable, and also given that the evidence is decent that the Neanderthals were themselves religiously aware in some sense, and thus not to be taken as a non-entity in the question) this seems like an appalling idea from a strictly humanitarian perspective. Create one or more "resurrected" members of an extinct group of humans as a scientific and technical stunt? A group of humans which clearly had mental and physical (and I would assume thus emotional) characteristics not so different from our own -- and yet almost certainly different as well.

Would the researchers "own" these Neanderthals? Would they be citizens with their own rights? What kind of life are you setting someone up for by artificially bringing him into the world 25,000 years after those like him died out, and making him a curiosity among a sea of those similar yet not the same?

Don't get me wrong, I can certainly find the idea of meeting other types of humans interesting, but artificially creating them strikes me as not only irresponsible, but inhumane.

Well, I'm apparently not the only one who had some ethical questions about the article, because the New York Times chose to run an editorial about the article. Their ethical concern?
The first mammoth would be a lonely zoo freak, vulnerable to diseases unknown to its ancestors. To live a full and rewarding life, it would need other mammoths to hang out with, a mate to produce a family and a suitable place to live. The sort of environment it is used to — the frigid wastes of Siberia and North America — are disappearing all too fast...

If scientists do bring back a few mammoths, we suspect our warming world won’t look any more hospitable than the one that did them in.
Yes, they ponder whether it would be moral to bring a woolly mammoth into a world with global warming.

Do you ever get the impression there are people with very different philosophical and moral compasses than your own in our country?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thou Trollop!

While I'm sticking my neck out making observations about the modern phase of the "war between the sexes": I've been darkly amused to note of late in some interdepartmental struggles at work that despite all other changes in social expectation, disparagement of a woman's virtue remains a standard means of attempting to neutralize social rivals.

More specifically, many female co-workers seem to consider it a particularly effective attack to suggest that another female co-worker only gets ahead because she flirts (or, it is darkly implied, does more than flirt) with male managers. Once this weapon is used a few times against a given woman, those circling in for the kill settle down to, "Did you see that v-neck she was wearing today? I mean, that's a veeeeeeeee neck."

While I understand that using sex appeal for gain is socially understood as being far worse than giving it away for free (especially by those who lack it), I get an odd sort of culture shock hearing the same kind of derision vented against immodesty that I used to hear from very buttoned-up Catholic homeschoolers in high school being voiced by women who I know cohabit with their boyfriends or remain open and active on "the scene".

Despite all the fears and boasts that society has lost all sense of propriety, Mrs. Grundy remains active even in modern society.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dry Skin Bleg

One of the girls has a problem with severe dryness on her hands. We've used Vaseline and Eucerin cream, but neither seems to work for long. Does anyone have any recommendations for an industrial-strength moisturizer suitable for six-year-old skin?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sexual Selection and Modern Dating

The other day my beautiful wife emailed me a link to this City Journal article entitled "Love in the Time of Darwinism" by Kay S. Hymowitz about the selective pressures which the modern dating environment places on the mating pool. It seems the same author had written another article earlier this year entitled "Child-Man in the Promised Land" about the phenomenon of single men in their twenties and even thirties who, rather than shouldering the "grown up" interests of their forefathers a generation or two before, linger in an extended adolescence of playing video games, watching cartoons and gross-out comedies, and seeking only uncommitted sex rather than marriage on the dating scene. In response to this first article, the author had received numerous emails from young men informing her that the reason that they behaved that way was essentially that the actions of the women on the dating scene left them little other choice. Hymowitz sums up their reaction this way:
Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM [single young male] is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.
And so this article is basically an investigation into how accurate this complaint is.

As with many such articles, what follows is a mix of anecdote, analysis and mild titillation. Hymowitz essentially takes the position that in a society with no fixed paradigm for what what women can or should have as expectations in dating, women on the modern dating scene often simply choose to expect that men fulfill whatever expectations they happen to have at the moment:
But then, when an SYM walks into a bar and sees an attractive woman, it turns out to be nothing like that. The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas. “I’ve gone through phases in my life where I bounce between serial monogamy, Very Serious Relationships and extremely casual sex,” writes Megan Carpentier on Jezebel, a popular website for young women. “I’ve slept next to guys on the first date, had sex on the first date, allowed no more than a cheek kiss, dispensed with the date-concept altogether after kissing the guy on the way to his car, fucked a couple of close friends and, more rarely, slept with a guy I didn’t care if I ever saw again.” Okay, wonders the ordinary guy with only middling psychic powers, which is it tonight?

In fact, young men face a bewildering multiplicity of female expectations and desire. Some women are comfortable asking, “What’s your name again?” when they look across the pillow in the morning. But plenty of others are looking for Mr. Darcy. In her interviews with 100 unmarried, college-educated young men and women, Jillian Straus, author of Unhooked Generation, discovered that a lot of women had “personal scripts”—explicit ideas about how a guy should act, such as walking his date home or helping her on with her coat. Straus describes a 26-year-old journalist named Lisa fixed up for a date with a 29-year-old social worker. When he arrives at her door, she’s delighted to see that he’s as good-looking as advertised. But when they walk to his car, he makes his first mistake: he fails to open the car door for her. Mistake Number Two comes a moment later: “So, what would you like to do?” he asks. “Her idea of a date is that the man plans the evening and takes the woman out,” Straus explains. But how was the hapless social worker supposed to know that? In fact, Doesn’t-Open-the-Car-Door Guy might well have been chewed out by a female colleague for reaching for the office door the previous week.
The result, according to Hymowitz's analysis, is thus that men eventually decide that women are essentially out for whatever they happen to want at the moment (which in cases like some of those above certainly appears to be the case) and so decide they might as well seek to find tactics for getting whatever they want out of life (in this case: video games, sex and fart jokes.) The result is what Hymowitz describes as a Darwinian struggle in which both men and women seek tactics to get what they want out of the other without giving commitments or putting up with behaviors they don't want.

While I recognize that any "struggle for survival" has in our culture come to be referred to as "Darwinian", I can't help finding this a rather peculiar use of the term, since to the extent that all of this churn in the dating world is intended to be entirely sterile it really has nothing to do with "reproductive success". Hymowitz says
No, the problem with the Darwinian tenor of the Menaissance is neither antipathy to women’s equality nor a misguided reading of female nature. It is an uncompromising biological determinism that makes no room for human cultivation. We are animals, the new Darwinians seem to say; get used to it. They define manhood as alpha-style toughness and unsentimental promiscuity. And in that spirit, they cultivate manipulation, calculation, and naked (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) self-interest. “Nature doesn’t care about hurting people’s feelings,” explains dating coach Mike Pilinski. “It cares ONLY about reproductive success.”
And yet one of the things that strikes me about this described system is that while it is a struggle shaped by the ways in which certain tactics achieve or fail to achieve their goals, it is a wholly un-natural situation. The whole reason why the scene that the article describes is even able to exist is that modern technology allows people to totally separate (or at least, imagine that they are totally separating) sex from its traditional context of producing offspring.

And in that regard, when I read this sort of thing (which apparently the parents on our local Catholic homeschooling email list are forwarding around with proclamations of how this seals their determination never to allow their children to date) I can't help wondering how real and widespread a phenomenon is actually being described here. I don't doubt that the people interviewed in the article, and in the books and studies quoted in the article, exist. But what percentage of the population has actually experienced anything like this sex-saturated primal struggle to get everything one wants without compromising any of one's own desires? Perhaps it's huge and I've somehow managed to live in a small corner of the Catholic sub-culture where I missed it. However, my impression is that while the dating scene described in the article doubtless exists among people of a certain income and background, in certain areas of the large cities throughout the US, for most people the post-sexual-revolution dating scene is one in which most people end up having sex before marriage, but nonetheless fairly quickly find themselves in long term relationships where they have children, share bank accounts and argue about who left the dishes undone.

There must be, it seems to me, a strong pull towards a moderately "traditional" lifestyle inherent within the human person simply because we are creatures made to associate sex with the closeness necessary to form a family able to nurture the children which naturally result from it. So to the extent that the culture described in this article is widespread (rather than just a good story for scaring parents and exciting those who wish they knew what bars the interviewees were hanging out at), I don't see how it could be sustainable. It's a culture which one can only bring new people into the world by leaving, and as such it seems like something that would naturally burn itself out fairly quickly. Even in the present of birth control technology which is obviously socially disruptive, if people are indeed going to keep reproducing and having anything vaguely resembling a stable family culture, this kind of sub-culture must be either very small or very transitory.

As Christians, our duty is to make it clear through word and example what the sane alternative is.

After a Long Day At Work... might just need a site which allows you to configure mad libs, and provides lots of helpful ones all ready for the tired mind to pour its detritus into.

Mad:)Glibs - free online Mad Libs
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And since you asked (you did, didn't you?) here's one from our own fevered minds:

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Open Letter to Obama

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eleven tips for keeping yourself sane (in a less-than-sane parish)

Rich Leonardi offers some excellent advice for serious Catholics trying to make a difference within their own parish.
Every troubled diocese has at least one affinity parish known for its doctrinal orthodoxy and liturgical fidelity. Serious Catholics tend to gravitate toward them, either as frequent guests or parishioners. But many choose not to do so for various reasons, e.g, a sense of obligation to reforming their territorial parish, a fear that leaving would "let the terrorists win," a connection to a school, or a desire for a neighborhood parish. If this latter group includes you, here are ten tips in no particular order for keeping yourself sane: Read More

Monday, November 17, 2008

Celebrity Edition

My dear friend Alana Antolak, actress extraordinaire (also the godmother of #2 here) has hit the big time: a national commercial for Doritos! If she's lucky, lots of people will vote for her commercial in January so that the head honchos at Doritos will pick her commercial to air during the Super Bowl.

Those who would question the worth of having majored in Drama at Franciscan University of Steubenville , question no more!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pop Culture Watch: Roadkill Edition

The holidays -- that neutrally named period leading up to the solemnity of the birth of Our Lord during which it is a requirement of consumer culture that we all rush about terribly fast seeking the best deals on the planet on items destined for others and ourselves -- are approaching, and as my duties this year involve running the "holiday core team" tasked with making sure that all the consumer electronics sales for Nameless Large Corporate Employer go off well from Nov. 26th through Jan 2nd, things have been rather franetic at work of late.

In all this I am reminded of a scene in a movie -- some sort of slacker comedy I saw years ago whose title escapes me -- in which a character brings himself to tears going on a rant about the poor, innocent, starving coyote who is endlessly tortured by a cruel, sadistic road runner.

Perhaps one of our readers who has retained more pop culture cred than I will recall what movie I'm thinking of. Regardless, I think I have been won over. The young ones have been watching the Looney Toons Golden Collection Vol. 3 via netflix, and having watched the Road Runner repeatedly break laws of reality which only adhere in the world of the cartoon when they serve to injure the coyote, and listening to his insufferable "Beep, beep", I think I'm ready to say: The Road Runner is a punk.

More to the point, he is a force of chaos. I'm in Wile E's camp. The bird needs to be lunch. He's exactly the sort of creature who would suddenly decide to revise all his pricing after it's already been sent to the site team for execution.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

High Comedy: Changing Table Edition

Dorian knows why babies crack themselves up on the changing table. Here's her three-month-old's running monologue, a level of hilarity that our slightly less cognizant two-month-old is working up to:
You guys!

Hi! Hi there! Hello! Hi!


The changing table!

The ceiling fan!

The ceiling fan, right? Am I right? Too funny! It's a ceiling fan!

My sister! With the song! About me!

Midnight! No - really! Midnight!

Are those my feet? Are those my FEET? Those are my feet!


Is that the kitty? Is that the KITTY? It's the kitty!

My brother! With the dancing! In my face! Pushing my swing!

But, seriously.

No, I'm playing. The changing table! The CHANGING TABLE!

Thanks - thank you. You've been a wonderful audience.

Presenting: The Church

As I mentioned, I'm giving a lecture in our Adult Catechesis series on "The Church". Well, for them that's interested, here's my PowerPoint presentation, though I don't know how much sense it will make given that it's mostly a visual for me to talk over.

Still I've tried to make the visuals good.

The presentation itself is here:

[It looks like on some slides the text goes off the bottom in the GoogleDocs version -- and my Greek text on one slide got lost. But hey, what can a fellow do?]

The outline that I'll be speaking from is here:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Four Brothers, Two Sides

If you didn't already see this yesterday, this CNN piece about four brothers and their experiences in World War II is highly worth reading. All of them grew up in the US as part of a large Japanese-American family, but several years before the war the father and younger children moved back to Japan. The oldest two brothers fought for the US in the Pacific theater, and the youngest two were drafted into the Japanese military. They re-united after the way, and one of the younger brothers later went on to fight for the US in Korea.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We'll See How This Works Out

After spending an hour window shopping (well, browser window) bridesmaids dresses, MrsDarwin has resolved to get in shape for her sister's wedding. She is now off do so some aerobic cookie making. At 10pm.

Floating in from the kitchen, "Oatmeal chocolate chip. Oatmeal is healthier."

UPDATE from MrsDarwin:
Here's what I have to compete with: my 18-year-old sister. I might as well just eat the whole batch of cookies now.

Speaking Hot and Cold on Climate Change

The weekend WSJ included a pair of articles discussing what president-elect Barack Obama should do about global warming. I sensed, and enjoyed, a little bit of editorial commentary in the authors selected:

British novelist Ian McEwan spins an airy confection of emotion and earnestness in his plea that Obama immediately work to shut down the carbon economy -- while making the seemingly contradictory claim that this would actually make people lots of money pioneering new technology if they would only forget their attachment to past energy sources. (As with so many climate change activists, he turns a blind eye to the nuclear power which is the real source of Europe's lesser reliance on coal and oil and instead touts the advantages of solar power.)

Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Business School pens a much more prosaic piece, looking at the costs behind proposed solutions, the humanitarian dangers of ignoring pressing problems like global hunger to pursue potential future ones such as global warming, and the ineffectiveness of Kyoto-style approaches to "solving" global warming.

One hopes that Lomborg's pragmatic approach will win out over the sentimental prose of McEwan, but in a world where presidents heal planets, one never knows.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Horror

I've been reading H.P. Lovecraft, and I say: meh. Maybe it's a mistake to read an author in a large volume of his collected works, but one can only take so many pulpy tentacles and Unspeakable Rites and ineffable foetor and blasted New England heaths before the style grows predictable. You want real terror? Let me tell you about the other night when the baby suddenly started to gag and choke and I couldn't find the aspirator. Compared to that, Cthulhu ain't even in it for fear.

Neil Gaiman understands. In fact, he has delved into some cursed and nightmarish arcana, and has presented the public with I Cthulhu, the dead god's dictated memoirs.
We are going out, said Hastur to me. Would you like to accompany us?

We? I asked him. Who's we?

Myself, he said, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Tsathogghua , Ia ! Shub Niggurath, young Yuggoth and a few others. You know, he said, the boys. (I am freely translating for you here, Whateley, you understand. Most of them were a-, bi-, or trisexual, and old Ia! Shub Niggurath has at least a thousand young, or so it says. That branch of the family was always given to exaggeration). We are going out, he concluded, and we were wondering if you fancied some fun.

I did not answer him at once. To tell the truth I wasn't all that fond of my cousins, and due to some particularly eldritch distortion of the planes I've always had a great deal of trouble seeing them clearly. They tend to get fuzzy around the edges, and some of them -- Sabaoth is a case in point -- have a great many edges.

But I was young, I craved excitement. "There has to be more to life than this!", I would cry, as the delightfully foetid charnel smells of the swamp miasmatised around me, and overhead the ngau-ngau and zitadors whooped and skrarked. I said yes, as you have probably guessed, and I oozed after Hastur until we reached the meeting place.

As I remember we spent the next moon discussing where we were going. Azathoth had his hearts set on distant Shaggai, and Nyarlathotep had a thing about the Unspeakable Place (I can't for the life of me think why. The last time I was there everything was shut). It was all the same to me, Whateley. Anywhere wet and somehow, subtly wrong and I feel at home. But Yog-Sothoth had the last word, as he always does, and we came to this plane.
Yep, that about sums it up.

Gaiman also reveals a fascinating bit of lost history:

Nice to see "I Cthulhu" in print at last: the only other Lovecraftian article I plan on doing at some point is annotating some correspondence that has come into my hands relatively mysteriously. Which is to say, it is not generally known that the H.P. Lovecraft letters we know and love are incomplete in one important respect.

In the late twenties and early thirties a young English writer -- who, like Lovecraft, thought little of writing twenty thousand word letters -- was in New York , working on his own books and writing the librettos to musicals.

That Lovecraft, a devoted anglophile, was a fan of the man's work is unsurprising. That P.G. Wodehouse was a fan of Weird Tales is perhaps more so. How their lengthy correspondence got into my grubby little hands I do not wish to go into at this point. Suffice it to say that I possess not only their only collaborative novel (alternatively titled The What Ho! On The Threshold and It's the Call of Cthulhu, Jeeves ) but also fragments of their musical, Necronomicon Summer , in which the heroine is called upon to sing those immortal lines:

I may be just a bird in a gilded cage

A captive like a parakeet or dove,

But when a maiden meets a giant lipophage

Her heart gets chewed and broken, like that old adage

-I'm just a fool who

Thought that Cthulhu

Could fall in love!

The similarities between the two authors -- not only in names, but also biography, both of them having been brought up by aunts for example (one of a legion of similarities) leads one to ponder why the collaborations were a failure and covered up by both men, and why they conducted their work together in such secrecy. Certainly the novel throws a fascinating light on both their obsessions (the sequence in which Aunt Agatha is revealed to be Nyarlathotep, and the Wooster-Psmith expedition to the thrice accursed plains of Leng, enlivened by their running battle over Bertie Wooster's bow-tie, spring to mind immediately).

When it is fit for publication; when copyright is cleared; and when the significant question of whether these are the Wodehouse-Lovecraft Letters, or the Lovecraft-Wodehouse Letters (or whether, as been suggested, one should compromise into, for example, the Lovehouse-Wodecraft Letters) has been fully sorted out: then I can assure you that your publication shall be the first to know about it.

Now that's a volume of collected works that I could sink my tentacles into.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Church in 90 Minutes

I'm on the team giving the Adult Catechesis lectures at our parish this year, and this coming Thursday is my first presentation. The topic is the "the Church", covering chapters 10-11 in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. I certainly won't lack for material...

Thus far, my plan is to deviate a bit from the way the book covers the topic. I'm going to spend the first 45 minutes doing an overview of Church history, and then after a 5-10 minute break I'll cover the doctrine covered in the catechism, using the history we've covered to provide concrete examples of what I'm talking about.

Given that we're supposed to be presenting with a target audience of those who have attended mass for most of their adult lives but have not had much formal Catholic education, I'm thinking that explaining how the Church is "one, Catholic, holy and apostolic" and other doctrinal elements from the catechism will make more sense after covering historical context.

I'll post my powerpoint deck and outline when its all done. (The which is front of mind right now because I'm trying to get the lion's share of the writing done this weekend.)

Does anyone have a recommendation for a fairly short and accessible history of the Church which might be listed as "further reading"?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Obamarama begins

John J. Reilly of The Long View has some thoughts on an Obama presidency:

As readers of this space will know, I have been a keen supporter of President Elect Obama for as long as he has been on the national stage. I look forward with unmitigated eagerness to his brilliant Administration. Indeed, in order that there may be no misunderstanding on this score, I celebrated Election Night by shredding any documents in my possession that might in any way be misconstrued to cast doubt on my enthusiasm for the next and best presidency. I plan to implement a similar editorial upgrade to my online material as soon as I figure out how to disable some intrusive Web-based archiving functions. Until then, readers are advised to attribute any confusing statements on this site to subversive hackers. I would, of course, be pleased to reveal to the newly progressive authorities the names, addresses, and personal details of actual malcontents.

In any case, splendid though the Obamarama will be, it will in many ways surprise both its proponents and that minority of persons who still await full conversion. Here are just a few points...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Reflections on a Defeat

So we lost. I don't like it a bit, but it's not exactly a surprise, and there it is. What is one to make of it all?

The Historic Moment
A great many people have commented on the historic nature of a black man being elected president of the United States -- when in some states he would not have been served at many lunch counters fifty years ago.

I'm glad that those who are deeply inspired by that are having their moment -- people should realize that skin color is not a barrier to achievement in the US and if that helps people (black, brown and white) realize that, all to the good. I must admit, as a 29-year-old who grew up in the working class suburbs of Los Angeles, I've figured for basically all my life that it's simply a matter of time till we had our first black president, our first hispanic president, out first female president, etc.

And I can't help feeling a certain cynicism about this because I can't imagine that if a Clarence Thomas type figure had been running for the GOP and won, there would be all this rejoicing at "barriers coming down". Sure, I'd consider it an extra bonus if a candidate whom I supported and who belonged to a once-oppressed minority won the presidency, but I'd care a lot more about him (or her) being someone I thought would be a good president than about the color of his skin. Call me colorblind, but there it is.

Divided We Remain
I'm already very tired of hearing people tell me what a wonderful day it is for America and how we can now all come together and heal the divisions of the last eight years. I hate to disappoint those who imagine that we're standing on the brink of some sort of brave new world in which all is peachy and keen, but the fact is that elections are pretty much a zero sum game. The fact that you won means that slightly less than half the country lost. Those of us who did are in no more mood to come together and rejoice over the result than you were in 2000 or 2004. So stop telling us you're looking forward to rejoicing in dawning of Obamerica with us -- it makes us cranky.

That said, for those of us who do find ourselves sorely disappointed with the country's leadership for the next four years (and especially the next two) perspective and even a little bit of graciousness is in order. We lost. We know how incredibly annoying, offensive stupid people looked who couldn't stop shouting that Bush-chimp was Hitler for the last eight years. We must not be those people.

And if we can avoid the excesses of shrillness and conspiracy theorizing that some conservatives fell into during the Clinton years, we stand a much better chance of keeping our time in the wilderness short.

Obama-voting Pro-Lifers
Some professed pro-lifers seem to think this is exactly the moment when Obama could be persuaded to reach out to them for some kind of middle ground:
“Now is the time to dialogue with Obama on the issue of life. Now that he is victor, the next stage is to work with him. This also means to be critical, to be sure, but also to engage what he has said. I think a petition or letter which quotes ALL that he has said positive about working with pro-lifers for removing the causes of abortion, and even of his support for restrictions on late-term abortion, needs to be made, before he is in office, and somehow got to him. It needs to suggest that 1) FOCA and his quotes do not go hand and hand, and 2) better postpone FOCA and let the dialogue happen and see what comes from it, especially since it would contradict his notion that abortion can be restricted. The time is now. “
Yeah, well, good luck with that.

I strongly suspect that Obama has now heard all that he wants to hear out of his pro-life supporters until around August, 2012. If Obama takes any positive act specifically towards reducing abortion (other than coincidental factors like the economy starting to improve in late 2009 -- which is roughly when I would expect a recovery regardless of who won) I will happily eat a hat of your choosing.

Where Obama Finds Himself
He won, and won convincingly. Given that the stock market is down 40% for the year, unemployment is rising, the incumbent's approval ratings sit under 30%, and the Republican brand is rocked by scandal and corruption over the last few years -- it would have been pretty pathetic if he'd lost. And indeed, that the fact the election was even competitive underscores that the Obama candidacy was very nearly an over-reach for the Democrats. They bet their best chance since Watergate that they could get in their ideal candidate rather than a compromise centrist, and their bet paid off.

Obama now finds himself a president elect with a strong majority in both houses of Congress and a very, very enthusiastic base. However, he's run as a sort of hybrid candidate, promising a few goodies for the political and cultural left (card check, Freedom of Choice Act), promising a big give away to the broad center (you can keep your current health care and I'll make it cheaper -- or if you can't get any I'll give you something great from the government), and even making traditionally conservative promises which are popular with the wider population (a broad tax cut for most Americans, reducing spending, balancing the budget). His problem now is that his promises are mutually contradictory, especially given that the current recession will probably not level off in terms of safety net expenses for another year, and tax revenues will plummet as the rich (who provide most of the tax dollars) take a hit.

There's no question that Obama is a very smart guy, and I'm sure that he doesn't want to repeat Bill Clinton's mistakes by overreaching in his first two years. He'd probably like to stick with fairly popular ideas for the first couple years. However, his most popular ideas are all very expensive. That leaves him the option of either doing fairly little during his first few years in office (and goodness knows, he's proved himself adept at looking good while doing very little indeed) or else appeasing his base by signing a bunch of highly partisan liberal priorities. If he does the latter, I suspect that the mid-term elections will go hard for him.

Perhaps he could just tour Europe for a few years? They're supposed to love us now.

Is This The End of Center-Right America?
One thing is for sure, come January we shall have a government somewhere between center-left and just plain left. And yet in the same final Pew poll that showed Obama sailing to victory, far more Americans described themselves as "conservative" than as "liberal". Add to that the fact that Obama ran, on paper, a hybrid left/right campaign in which he consistently hammered the Republican nominee for not cutting enough people's taxes or having the right approach to balancing the budget, and it seems hard to argue that the outcome of the election represented a significant shift to the left.

And yet, while Obama did not run as a leftist, his actual record certainly suggests that he actually is one. And there's no question but what the Democratic congress at his back will be eager for left wing legislation -- though we've been spared the embarrassment of having Al Franken in the Senate making things even more absurd there than they normally are.

So clearly the US is in for a period of center-left rule, though I think the country is arguably still clearly center-right now. The question is, will the country come to like center-left rule over the coming years, and thus become a center-left country, or will it remain essentially center-right in orientation?

I think it's rather early to start imagining that the US will become a Sweden or even a France any time soon, though. Recall that in the thirty years since 1980 the right has managed to define the viable political spectrum on a number of issues: taxes, welfare to work, gun control, capital punishment, etc. Other areas are hardened into seemingly permanent strife: abortion, gay issues. Few issues have settled into a leftist status quo.

Whither Conservatism?
Well, that's the question, isn't it, and one probably addressed in future whole posts than in the last section of this long one. However, one thing seems clear to me: While the country is still clearly open to conservative ideas, the old standards which have been milked for the last eight years are running out of steam.

Taxes have already been cut to the point where they can't go down much more until America kicks its addiction to government programs -- something which is still very much in the future at this point.

There is still a constituency (even in "blue" states) for social conservatism, but a significant number of those who hold traditional views on social issues are Hispanic or African American. The GOP would be especially wise to find a way to appeal to socially conservative Hispanics. The best way of doing this would probably be getting behind an agenda of massively simplifying the immigration process, increasing immigration quotas (especially for Central and South America), and at then enforcing the law rigorously.

Conservatives need to find a way to seem like they care (and the amounts of time and money conservatives put into social issues show that they do care) without advocating big government solutions to local problems. Bush simply went the big government route, with programs like No Child Left Behind and the Prescription Drug Benefit. What we need is instead an approach to a range of "safety net" issues which, like charter school and vouchers have done for education, can be a national issue yet a force towards localization.

As Reagan said after losing the primary in '76: It's time to get to work.

[Cross Posted]

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Chuck Norris Facts, Real Life Edition

Everyone's seen those lists of Chuck Norris facts.
  • When Chuck Norris goes to donate blood, he declines the syringe, and instead requests a hand gun and a bucket.
  • Chuck Norris grinds his coffee with his teeth and boils the water with his own rage.
  • And a timely one for Election Day: Anytime someone is elected president in the United States, they must ask permission from Chuck Norris to live in the White House. The reason for this is because Chuck Norris had won every Federal, State, and Local election since 1777. He just allows others to run the country in his place.
Well, here's Chuck Norris in real life:
Some people think after 35 years of ceaseless controversy since the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade that abortion is an "old" issue better dropped. I do believe the economy is the issue in this election, but it's certainly not the only issue. We can't just be concerned about our finances. We must also be concerned about America's future, and those who occupy it. Our posterity matters. Their rights matter. And that includes their "unalienable Rights," with which have been "endowed by their Creator," and among them are the quintessential rights: "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Abortion is not about a woman's "right to choose." It is about a more fundamental "right to life," which is one of three specifically identified unalienable rights in the Declaration (and the Constitution through Article VII and the Bill of Rights). And it is a violation of government's primary purpose: to protect innocent life.

Why your vote matters today

UPDATE: I've taken down the image of the aborted baby -- see discussion in the combox. --MrsDarwin

Think the candidates are the same? Think it doesn't matter if you sit this one out because you're too principled to vote for the lesser of two evils? Think again.

48 million children slaughtered since 1973.

I will take this image down tomorrow. I can't look at it long. But everyone should look at it once, to understand what it is we're fighting against.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Closing Arguments

As if to make sure I can't spend too much of my time reading and writing political blogging, the job has me in training the first half of this week. However, there is a tremendous amount of good blogging up at American Catholic:

Which Unjust War by Chris Blosser

Pop Quiz by Ryan Harkins

Topic A by DarwinCatholic

Into The Storm by Donald McClarey

The Case For Not Voting by Chris Burgwald

Catholics and Pro Abortion Candidates by Eric Brown

However things end up, word is that the world shall not end. More word shall be forthcoming as soon as your faithful correspondents can find time and grist for prose.