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

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mac and cheese

Did anyone check out He's asking for recipes so that he can start cooking for his family -- starting with the new school year, his goal is to not only make it home for dinner, but to cook it half the time. Here's a recipe I left -- a great favorite with Noogs and Babs, who are even beginning to eat it neatly.

Homemade Mac and Cheese -- takes no more time than making it from a box, and you already have all the stuff.

1 lb. noodles (we like the curly cavatappi)
1 med. bag frozen broccoli florets (optional, and you can also cut florets from two heads fresh broccoli)
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups milk (we like whole)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar

Set a big pot of water to boil. If making broccoli, toss it in boiling water and let cook for about two minutes -- until slightly tender but not mushy. Remove broccoli with slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with paper towels. Set aside.

Put noodles in to boil. In large microwavable bowl, microwave butter for about thirty seconds. When melted, add flour, mustard, and salt and pepper and stir. Microwave for thirty more seconds. Stir in milk and microwave for about four minutes, stirring every minute or so, until nice and thickened and bubbly.

Mix shredded cheese into the sauce and let sit while the noodles finish cooking. Drain noodles and place in serving bowl. If serving broccoli, add that as well. Pour the cheese sauce over all, stir, and call the kids to the table.

Serves two adults and two toddlers and leaves leftovers, so I assume it will be plenty for two adults and two larger children.

Hope you enjoy! I know most kids love mac and cheese.

I lay on my bed and ponder

Folks, it is 2:40 am, and I cannot sleep. There once was a time when I would be awake at 2:40 entirely through my own choice, but those days are long past; now I'm simply old and pregnant. There's no reason Smaskig should be so heavy at 9 1/2 weeks, or that it should already be uncomfortable to sleep on my stomach. Of course, maybe it's because it's TOO DAMN HOT! as Cole Porter would say.

Psalm 4:3 says, "upon your beds ponder in silence" and Psalm 63:7, " When I think of you upon my bed, through the night watches I will recall...." I can't seem to shut my mind down, even though I desperately yearn to get some sleep. What I often do when I'm wide awake at night for whatever reason is reflect on this psalm -- sometimes I'm awake worrying about things; sometimes it's trivial things keeping me up; sometimes (like tonight) I just can't get the sheep together in my head -- if I'm up at night, I try to "ponder" in my bed, meditating on the inscrutable ways of God or offering Him my sleeplessness or praying for whomever passes through my mind. Most of the time I fall asleep shortly; when I don't, I can't complain that my time was wasted.

Off to bed to ponder...

Friday, July 29, 2005

The family that eats together...

Appropriately enough, Darwin and I were discussing this Wall Street Journal article at the dinner table, concerning the importance of the family meal. Here's a few tidbits.

The recent death of Gerry Thomas, whom many credit with inventing the TV dinner (think Swanson), draws to a close the kinder, gentler era when happy families gathered around a television set, aluminum trays in hand, enjoying their chopped sirloin beef and sweet green peas in seasoned butter sauce while laughing at the wacky antics of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Today, televisions are a lot bigger (and flatter), the frozen-food industry has grown into a $30 billion business and the chances of getting everyone to sit down for dinner at the same time are a lot slimmer. Instead, we are a nation of take-outers and drive-throughers, eating our meals on the go, dining by ourselves and laughing alone. The family dinner has become an endangered species, the victim of our own ingenuity and productivity.

These days, fewer than one-third of all children sit down to eat dinner with both parents on any given night. The statistics are worse if both parents are working and the family is Caucasian (Latino families have the highest rate of sharing a meal). The decline in the family dinner has been blamed for the rise in obesity, drug abuse, behavioral problems, promiscuity, poor school performance, illegal file sharing and a host of other ills.

In my home, I rarely eat dinner with my two children and wife more than twice a week. Because I commute 55 miles to Manhattan, I seldom return before 7:30 or 8 at night, which is simply too late for our nine-year-old and six-year-old to eat. Instead, my wife feeds them microwaved chicken nuggets, hot dogs, plain pasta and other staples from the children's food pyramid. Sometimes she will wait for me; more often I pick up something at Grand Central and eat on the train.

Even on days when we are all together, our dinner table resembles a diner, with each family member ordering his own meal. My son will eat pasta with pesto, but not with red sauce, while his sister loves the latter but hates the former. She will eat hamburgers and chicken, while my son will only eat hot dogs. Neither likes cereal with milk, but my daughter adores milk and cereal (just not together). My son can't stand either. We accommodate their pickiness because we can and because it's easier than the consequences if we don't.


There is also another reason for the decline in shared mealtimes, one rarely spoken about: Parents don't want to eat with their children. Arlie Russell Hochschild noted in "The Time Bind" (1997) that as home becomes more like work, and work becomes more like home, there are fewer reasons to rush back in time for dinner. Most men say that, if given a choice between time or money, they would choose the former; in fact, they choose the latter. After all, who wants to deal with a six-year-old having a temper tantrum because there is green stuff on her pasta? Much easier to stay at the office, order in, drink a beer and trudge home when the kids are asleep. Even in families where both parents are at home, they often wait until the kids are in bed to eat. As one mother told me: "It's just not fun to eat with them."

As food preparation has become easier, meals quicker and distractions ubiquitous, it's tempting to view the family dinner as simply another choice from columns A, B or C. Just as television has splintered its viewing audience, TV dinners have splintered the dining audience. When anyone can eat alone, few eat together.

And that's a shame. Because dinner is like a formal poem, with a fixed meter and time. It can't be hastened by new technology or emailed as an attachment to our kitchens. Instead, it's one of the few opportunities for conversation in a noisy world, a place to take a slower measure of our frenzied days. By missing mealtime, we are missing a substantial part of our children's lives. Sooner than we realize, they will not be at our table. Sooner than that, they will not want to have anything to do with us.

Well, lots to chew on here. I was struck by his description of his own family's meals, with the picky kids and the fragmented menu. How is that a child learns to eat what is set before him (or at least politely and quietly push it around)? How is it that parents form good table habits in their children? They eat together. Accomodating a child's fussiness at the table may be the easy way out, but frankly, eating what's set before you builds character. Where's Calvin's dad when you need him? And of course dad doesn't want to eat with the little monsters when they throw fits and won't touch the green stuff, but who made 'em that way? Their parents, that's who.

The author notes that the kids will be gone from the table before ya know it, and even before that they won't want anything to do with their folks. Well, sure, if the folks can't even make time to sit down with the kids and eat with them.

This sort of problem seems like an effect of just having too much money. There are plenty of families who eat meals together at home, because they can't afford to do otherwise. (The article mentions that family dinners are most prevalent among Latinos, perhaps because of cultural standards and perhaps because of financial constraints on fast food.) It's simply not cheap to nosh on fast food every day. Darwin had a co-worker at one point who was trying to cut costs because she and her husband were expecting. She convinced her husband to stop eating out for every meal (they had staggered schedules and he didn't like to cook) and trimmed $500 a month from their budget. $500!

The author seems to realize that family meal time is important, what with all his "dinner is like a formal poem" and "few opportunities for conversation in a frenzied world" prose. However, realization is not the end of the journey. The next step is to actually make the sacrifices involved in getting home on time to eat with the family, in instilling the discipline in the children to make them pleasant mealtime companions, and in not rushing dinner in order to get back to the precious computer. You can track his progress at I guess it must be important to him, since he's started a blog about it...

Living Too Long To Believe

In a spurt of optimism, I checked out a new Penguin collection of writings by St. Thomas Aquinas from the library, thinking I'd actually have time to read some of it. As it was, I only had the chance to read one short essay: On Being and Essence. (Very good reading, of course.)

But what has me thinking at the moment isn't the text itself, but the cover art, which was a very nice reproduction of this fresco called The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Now, this is an allegory, not a depiction of heaven I found myself reminded of the paintings of Dante's celestial rose. And this got me thinking (sorry, hope all this "made me think" stuff doesn't sound too bloggish) that one of the biggest differences between Aquinas' (and Dante's) world and our own is the constant and obvious threat of death that our Catholic forebears experienced.

What, after all, do we believe in? What concept was it that converted a pagan world to Christianity? More than loving your neighbor, more than giving to the poor, more than the Christian moral synthesis, the primary attraction of Christianity was that it answered people's deepest questions and fears about death. Christ triumphed over death. Christ brought us the good news that we were each created and loved by God and that God yearned for us to be united with Him forever in heaven.

A lot of Catholic bloggers have pointed out that one thing you will almost never hear a sermon about is sex. Priests don't want to tell people that what they may be doing is wrong. But number two on the list of avoided topics is death. How often have you heard from the pulpit about "Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell." And yet, why were we created? Baltimore catechism style, we were created to know love and serve God and be happy with him one day in heaven. What do we celebrate in the mass? We celebrate Christ's death and resurrection, whereby he won for us forgiveness for our sins and the fruits of eternal life.

Yet as a group, modern Catholics don't tend to be all the morbid. We don't think much about death. Like the rest of society, we think about how to make the world a better place and how to live a happy and fulfilled life.

In reality, though, it's all leading towards four things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Pass this along to five friends or else...

My sister is the queen of sending me forwards containing dire warnings about this or that, but I haven't seen this one yet.

(Note: I don't read the Huffington Post myself; I saw it on The Corner.)
(Nota Bene: do not drink while reading....)

“Hello Greg. This was forwarded to me by a friend, Joan, who works at the stationary shop in Hillsdale Mall, San Mateo, California. Joan doesn't know if it's true or not but, I'm passing it along to you. We might see this on the CNN tomorrow... as totally true or a hoax but...YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO SAFE.

“Joan just told me that her friend, Alice, (who also works at the Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo, California) said that she heard a kitten crying loudly on her porch TWO nights before last. She said the kitten sounded hungry and scared, and she thought it was WEIRD. She was going to check on it, but then she decided to call the police.

Glad she did because the police told her "whatever you do, do NOT open the front door." Alice then told Joan that the kitten's cries had gotten fainter, and she was worried that it would wander to the busy street and get run over, possibly by a car! So she called the police again and they said, "we sent someone to your house. but PLEASE do not open the door." He told her, "it's a PLOY. if you open the door YOU WILL DIE."

Apparently the police says that Karl Rove has a kitten's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone left a kitten outside. When a woman goes outside to check, she is murdered in a manner so vile, then her body defiled so ghoulishly, it defies description! THIS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED TWICE. In Toledo and Mt. Pleasant.

It has not been verified, but the police say that Rove then drives around in black sedan with other staff members, with the women tied up in the trunk. The cars lights ARE NOT ON. This is ON PURPOSE. The first person who ‘flashes’ them or honks their horn at them – has to be followed by the newest staff member in their car – who has to shoot them dead! When someone is shot, a pair of shoes, laced together, are thrown over a powerline to mark the place of death!

Read the rest, if you dare.

Amazing new Geographical discovery!

Darwin's father, always up on the latest scientific developments, alerts us to this stunning new find: "'Midwest' discovered between East and West Coasts"!

NEW YORK—A U.S. Geological Survey expeditionary force announced Tuesday that it has discovered a previously unknown and unexplored land mass between the New York and California coasts known as the "Midwest."

The Geological Survey team discovered the vast region while searching for the fabled Midwest Passage, the mythical overland route passing through the uncharted area between Ithaca, NY, and Bakersfield, CA.

"I long suspected something was there," said Franklin Eldred, a Manhattan native and leader of the 200-man exploratory force. "I'd flown between New York and L.A. on business many times, and the unusually long duration of my flights seemed to indicate that some sort of large area was being traversed, an area of unknown composition."


Iowahawk ran a piece in a similar vein a while back: Bush Country Faces Grim Shortage of Lattes, Galleries.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Reading Greeley

As I mentioned a while back, I checked out a copy of Andrew Greeley's The Catholic Myth from the library. The bit I read even before checking it out was enough to convince me that Greeley's writing style is intensely annoying, but he's a name in Catholic demographics and sociology, and so it seemed like since this a growing interest of mine (one that given the opportunity I'd like to have the chance to actually study and write about) I should slog through the Greeley book and see what he had to say.

Greeley's writing style (excessively self-congratulatory and short of statistical detail) continued to grate on me, but I'll run through the high-lights and low-lights of what he had to say.

Surveying Catholics
This is my biggest gripe with Catholic opinion polling and demographics such as I've seen them up to this point. Everyone seems to just ask "Are you Catholic" and if the answer is yet, go on with the survey. The polls and studies that Greeley uses follow the same pattern. This makes sense if you consider Catholicism to be a social or ethnic group, but it doesn't make sense when you're looking at a religion -- which at a rough pass of a definition is a group of believers united by a common creed, set of practices or beliefs. Thus, it seems like, beyond asking people "are you Catholic?", someone conducting a detailed survey should follow up with a series of questions about Catholic beliefs and practice in order to further segment self-identified Catholics into mass attending Catholics, Catholics who believe in the real presence, Catholics who go to confession at least once a month, Catholics who believe in papal infallibility, etc., etc.

Many of what strike me as Greeley's more unhelpful assertions derive from considering Catholics and to an extent Catholicism to simply be the sum of the views of self-identified Catholics.

On the Priesthood
Greeley may not be an orthodox Catholic, but he isn't exactly a group thinker either. He has ideas to offend both sides of the debate on the priesthood in that he favors the continuation of mandatory celibacy yet is in favor of ordaining women. (Even odder, he's in favor of a temporary priesthood or "priestcore" which would allow young people to serve as priestly celibates for a fixed term and then move on to have families. I really can't see how this one would work out on a practical basis...)

On the celibate priesthood, he thinks that mandating celibacy emphasizes that the otherwordly aspect of the priesthood -- that the priesthood is not just a job but a vocation with one foot in this world and one in the next. Celibacy gives priests a more otherworldly quality.

On women in the priesthood, Greeley's feelings are based on his studies showing increases in marital satisfaction correlated to women having close confidential relationships with their priests. He therefore theorizes that if men could have close confidential relationships with female priests, they would experience similar benefits. Theology of the priesthood aside, I'm really not sure that I buy this. Men generally do not like having "close confidential relationships" and I don't think that men in general would find a celibate female as good a soundingboard as women find a celibate male to be.

Vocation Shortage
Although he supports women priests for other reasons, Greeley says (quite rightly I think) that the "vocations crisis" is primarily a self-made crisis resulting from priests not doing any recruiting work. Greeley maintains that most priests (based on his survey in the mid seventies) feel that the hierarchy does not care about them, and that the priests' response is not to push any young men in their congregations to become priests. If, he says, the Church put half the work into getting new priests that the Air Force does into getting new pilots, we wouldn't have a problem.

There's a lot of truth to that. If parish priests were expected to give at least one serious "recruitment" sermon a quarter and to provide workshops (this is what it's like to be a priest, this is why I became a priest) for school and youth groups, I expect we'd see an immediate uptick in vocations.

I'd also be very curious (Greeley doesn't look in this direction at all) what sort of background the vocations that we are getting in the US come from. Since little active effort is being put into recruitment right now, it would be interesting to see what circumstances tend to help young (and older) men discover a vocation. I suspect that coming from families of three or more children and above average participation in the sacramental life are major factors, as is contact with good priestly roll models. It'd be interesting to do a study of current seminarians and see what sort of background factors are most common for them.

On the Youth
Greeley holds that there's "not much wrong" with the youth in today's (or rather, 1990's) Church. He says they're much like they were when he grew up in the forties. Sure, they're less likely to go to church on Sunday, but then, so are all age groups. Sure they're more likely to be promiscuous or have "live-in" relationships before marriage, but this only correlates to a "small" decrease in religious participation.

One of my big problems with this section of Greeley's book is that he was always using terms like "small" and "slight" without substantiating them. Another is that since his concept of Catholicism seems to be limited to self identification plus a certain "Catholic imagination" (a sacramental/incarnational way of looking at the world), it's hard to draw any conclusions about the relative habits of practicing vs. non-practicing young Catholics.

To me, the most interesting thing would be to correlate young Catholics beliefs and practice to their parents beliefs and practice. You'd also want to correlate behavior and vocation consideration by young Catholics with their stated beliefs, their parents' beliefs, and their education. There's some really interesting stuff I think you could dig up there.

Iraqi Mom Patrols the Streets

Publius Pundit runs an AP story about Sgt. Bushra Jabar, an Iraqi mother of four and member of the Iraqi Army, responsible for police duties in Bagdad.

Here she is commuting to work:

Cute mom in pickup truck with gun... Sounds like a red state America dream come true.

Andrew Greeley's book is gone

Darwin returned The Catholic Myth to the library the other day, and I must say I'm already missing it. It made an excellent coaster when I didn't want to put a glass on the nice wood side table.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Big Labor splits

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the troubles that Big Labor is having.

The AFL-CIO, the giant union consortium formed in 1955 by George Meany and Walter Reuther, is breaking apart this week in a dispute over how to revive labor's lagging fortunes. The tragedy is that neither faction is offering an agenda that will make workers more prosperous in our increasingly competitive global economy.
Instead, we are witnessing a fight over who gets to preside over a declining labor movement. Two of the largest and more successful unions, the Service Employees International and the Teamsters, are rebelling against the leadership of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. The irony is that it wasn't all that long ago, in 1995, that Mr. Sweeney won his job with his own coup against Lane Kirkland, the Cold War hero and more moderate labor voice.
In the wake of the GOP takeover of Congress the year before, Mr. Sweeney promised to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into electoral politics to stop the Gingrich Revolution. He staffed AFL-CIO headquarters with activists from the political left--environmental groups, culturally liberal outfits--and made the union consortium a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.
...What's missing on both sides, however, is a vision of economic opportunity that might actually make workers want to join a union in the first place. Tactics aside, both factions continue to believe in the idea of unions that arose in the Industrial Age: Greedy management versus the exploited working man, seniority over flexibility, fixed benefits and strike threats over working with management to keep a U.S.-based company profitable and innovative in a world of growing competition. On the political front, both factions favor trade protection, higher taxes and government help to enforce restrictive work rules. This is the agenda of Old Europe, where jobless rates are above 10%, and it merely offers more economic insecurity in the U.S. as well.
...Without such a new vision, Big Labor will only continue its slide. All the more so given new Labor Department rules, recently upheld in court after an AFL-CIO challenge, requiring that unions disclose more details about how they spend hard-earned member dues. Some of the nation's largest unions will now have to disclose their spending by specific categories, such as political donations, grievance proceedings, or organizing. This sunshine will expose just how much labor money is being wasted on political activities that have little to do with improving workers' lives.
Union leaders seem genuinely to believe that their glory days will return if only they can defeat President Bush, or oust Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader. But their real obstacle is the reality of the modern global economy. Until they offer workers something more than class warfare, circa 1955, they will continue to decline.

Full disclosure: I don't come from a union background. My first exposure to unions was hearing my father tell the story of how, on his first day of college, he had to cross a picket line because the teachers were striking. He recounted how he was struck by how rude and intimiadating the striking teachers were to him and how he'd decided never to join a union because of the experience.

I myself was a member of the UFCW (I think that was the name) for about a month, working over Christmas break at a grocery store. I had no desire to join the union, but of course you're not really given any choice about such things, and so a portion of my paycheck was withheld to support a group who spent my money with no endorsement from me or accountability to me. I believe that unions served a valuable purpose in the early days of organization (incidents like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 are a disgraceful reminder of the condition of workers in the early part of the twentieth century). However, using the hard-earned bucks of its members to
support the management's pet causes is a travesty of everything the unions originally stood for.

Update: Bonfire of the Vanities has some thoughts about the workers.

Susan Torres

An update on Susan Torres, reprinted from the Washington Post.

For those who haven't heard about this, Susan Torres is a pregnant woman in Northern Virginia who has melanoma. She's brain-dead, but is being kept alive for the sake of her baby girl, who is now 26 weeks along. The family is hoping that the baby can stay in the womb until mid-August. Not all costs are covered by insurance, and the family is relying on prayers and donations to help defray costs.

Visit Susan's site and read more about this amazing family. And keep them in your prayers.

Extra! Extra! Pope gets blog!

Rick Lugari reports on Pope Benedict's new blog!
Vatican – The late John Paul II was known for blazing new trails, but it seems that his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, is well on his way to blazing some trails of his own. The Holy Roman Pontiff has staked his claim to a corner of cyberspace.

Why would the most visible religious leader in the world, the leader of over one billion Catholics, who even has his own press office, choose to publish a weblog? The pope, who pens under the catchy nickname Papa Ratzi, states on his blog that his reason for blogging is that he “really, really likes the idea of musing.”

...Apparently, the Holy Pontiff is no longer content reading the opinions of others, and desires to have a forum of his own. I placed a call to the papal office to get a comment and was told by the Holy Father’s secretary that the pope’s blog is his personal enterprise, and that any questions regarding it should be directed to him directly via his Haloscan commenting system, which can be found on his blog.

I made some contacts in order to get an idea of what members of the Curia think about this unconventional hobby of the pontiff. According to one high level Vatican insider who wishes to remain anonymous, the pope started blogging simply because he enjoys it. This source informs me that even as Cardinal Ratzinger, the Holy Father often stayed up to the wee hours of the morning commenting on various blog sites under a pseudonym.

...Not all of the people I spoke with were pleased with the notion of the pope blogging. One of the more progressive bishops fears that the pope will, in his words, “get mixed up with the wrong crowd and be persuaded to reform the reform of the liturgy.” He continued, “There are a great number of reactionaries blogging who don’t like Clown Masses, hippy folk song hymns, chitchatting in a gymnasium, the Sign of Peace and other fruits of the liturgical reform. The Holy Father is already inclined to limit the freedom of liturgists and roll the liturgy back to the Middle Ages; the last thing we need for him to believe is that the general consensus is with him.”

Another Vatican official voiced the concern that the pope’s blogging may be interfering with his work. Apparently the Holy Father’s first encyclical was due to be released July 17, but has been continually delayed because the pope has been spending an inordinate amount of time preparing his blog and commenting on other blogs.

Go to the source!

Monday, July 25, 2005

If Roe Falls

With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice O'Connor and the nomination of John Roberts to replace her, everyone seems to be talking about the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Now, let me emphasize, although we've replaced one Roe supporter with a likely Roe opponent, we're not there yet. We still need to replace one more pro-Roe justice. The best candidate is probably Justice Stevens, who is 85 and in increasingly poor health. However, the consensus is that unless he's virtually on the point of death, Stevens will not retire while Bush is president, hoping that a Democrat will be elected in 2008.

There is also little agreement on what the political fallout of such an overturn would be. In a Boston Globe article written right after the '04 election, Drake Bennett argued that this is in fact not the Democrats' greatest fear, but the Republicans', since it would result in a huge backlash against Republicans on a nationwide level.

Perhaps just because I disagree with Bennett on the moral issue in question, perhaps because I have a different social context in which to form my opinions regarding the likely cultural fallout of such a decision, I suspect that the result would in fact be the de facto fragmentation of both parties, and that this might in fact be a very good thing.

Say it's spring of 2008 and a significantly re-staffed Supreme Court has thrown Roe v. Wade out as an unacceptable reading-into-the-law on the part of Justices Blackmun and Co. (In all reality, it would doubtless take a while to get an appropriate case on the issue through the pipeline and before the court, but moving it up to before the 2008 election allows us to work with an essentially familiar electoral landscape rather than making tenuous assumptions about which party is likely to control the presidency and congress more than four years hence.)

The result would, of course, not be that abortion would immediately become illegal at a national level (nor that woman would have to wear burkas, though if Maureen Dowd would like to begin now anyway I'm all for it). Rather, regulation of abortion would fall into the hands of the congress and of the individual state legislatures. Should this occur during Bush's second term, I would imagine the president would give an address in his "uniter not divider" mode in which he would say essentially:

"My fellow Americans, today is a historic day, because today the highest court in the land has reaffirmed a principle which all free people must hold dear: the principle that in a democracy such as ours, the power to make law lies not in the whims of activist judges, but rather in our congress and our state legislatures and in the people of this great land. Today is a day of celebration for some, but it is a day of responsibility for all. Starting today we must come together as Americans to make sure that every woman is treated with dignity and that every child that is brought into the world is welcomed."

Then expect the president to roll out a proposal for a high visibility "compassionate conservative" program to provide assistance to women in problem pregnancies. Hard-core economic conservatives will denounce it as yet another example of Bush's fiscal irresponsibility and equally hard-core liberals will denounce it both as theocratic social engineering and as a tragically under-funded scam that would have worked if only they had had the idea first.

In the following days, strong pro-choice senators will field a "Right to Choose" amendment while strong pro-life senators will field a "Sanctity of Life" amendment, but it will be clear that neither has the votes to progress beyond debate and get an up or down vote, much less pass.

At this point, things move down to the state level, and this is where things get interesting. Sources differ on how many states would likely ban abortion in almost all circumstances, perhaps depending on whether they're trying to be factual or trying to scare the pro-choice constituency into providing more donations. The Center for Reproductive Rights estimates that 30 states would ban abortion. NARAL estimates only 12 would. No matter how you look at it, a number of "red" states would clearly pass severe restrictions during the first few years following Roe's downfall. At the same time, a number of "blue" states would doubtless pass state constitutional amendments or state legislation specifically protecting or even expanding abortion access beyond current federal levels.

The first 5-10 years after the overturn of Roe would be very interesting times from a political discourse point of view. Because the 1973 decision was made by judicial fiat, politicians and voters have not had to publicly think through and debate their positions to any great extent. Furthermore, abortion issues strike a very deep chord with both proponents and opponents. It's likely that as the country divided into life states and choice states, a great many people would make decisions about where to live at least partially for ideological reasons. (This already happens to a great extent. Real estate prices aside, one of the reasons I picked Texas as a new home was that I was tired of California's political climate, and friends of mine who moved from California to Arizona, Nevada and Colorado cited similar concerns.) It's likely that both pro-life and pro-choice states would become more extreme in their views.

This brings up an interesting question in regards to the national parties. It's already true that "red" sates often field pro-life Democrats while "blue" states field pro-choice Republicans. However, when abortion policy is being decided at the legislative rather than the judicial level, will parties continue to allow dissent from the party platform, and how severe will infighting become within specific regions?

In "blue" states, I imagine that pro-choice Republicans would become bolder, and would eventually alienate local pro-life Republican minorities so much that a split would become likely. Since the national electoral center of gravity for Republicans will definitely be in the "red" pro-life states, it's likely that the minority pro-life faction would remain affiliated with the national party while the pro-choice, blue-state Republicans would split off. Let's call them the Libertarian-Federalist Party.

In the "red" states, where pro-choice Democrats would stand little chance, we could expect a resurgence of pro-life progressives; let's call them the Christian Democratic Party (though I do so at my peril as I know little of the similarly named parties in Europe). Each of these parties would in turn find willing constituents in states of the other color, as many traditionally Democratic demographics in "blue" states would be happy to vote Christian Democrat and certain "business is best" types in "red" states would be happy to vote Libertarian-Federalist.

Congress would become a four-way tie of sorts, while the presidency would be truly up for grabs in a way it hasn't been in over a hundred years. More than anything else, the splitting would do wonders for political discourse and involvement as politicians were forces to argue their principles and convince voters who had other options.

Will it happen that way? One can only wait and see...

What we did this weekend

Friday night we attended a going-away party for our priest, who is being transferred to another parish. The hall was absolutely packed, the food lines were long, and of course my potato salad (which was the only dish my poor stomach wanted to think about) was gone by the time we got to the serving table. Still, an enjoyable evening. There was also a bit of a talent show in which yours truly sawed away at some Irish tune with the help of more talented friends. Afterwards we went out driving in order to watch the mileage roll over to 100,000. Whoo-hoo!

Saturday we took in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with some friends. Most enjoyable -- better than the first movie, I think. Johnny Depp is a funky guy who's able to channel the bizarre with style, and here's he's playing an insecure boy who hasn't really grown up. The Oompah-Loompahs' songs were laugh-out-loud funny, in various pastiches of modern styles, and the Oompah Loompahs weren't orange and fake -- they actually look like they're from a South Seas island (they're all played by the same guy, which gets funnier and funnier). And (a big plus in my book) Tim Burton didn't repeat the mistake of the first movie in having Charlie and Grandpa Joe sneak off and do something stupid. C'mon guys: Charlie wins because he's good! He's not a disobedient, noxious brat like the other kids! Anyway, there were some scenes that would have frightened me as a small child (melting puppets -- kind of creepy; Veruca Salt being attacked by squirrels) so I wouldn't personally take a child under ten to see it, but I give it three stars.

(Note: in a set of flashbacks not in the book (though very Dahl-ian in tone) we see Willy Wonka's father, played by Christopher Lee, who does not look like he's almost 90. Well-preserved doesn't begin to describe it!)

Friday, July 22, 2005


I have no interest in seeing it, but I was delighted by the Wall Street Journal's heading for its review of "The Island":

"'The Island' is no fun Atoll."

I wanna get paid to sit around thinking up clever headlines.


Thank you all for your patience with our inactivity here -- between Darwin and myself we haven't had much time to blog. But at the moment Noogs and Babs are planted in front of the TV watching Rocky and Bullwinkle, and I have my feet up in the recliner, so I'm ready to rumble (as they say).

On the advice of friends whose advice in these matters is to be trusted, I've been reading Josef Pieper's The Four Cardinal Virtues. I'm only a few chapters into the first section, on prudence, and I'm finding it fascinating. Pieper states that prudence is somewhat of a "lost" virtue now, seen often as weakness, cowardice, or "small-minded self preservation". But nothing could be farther from the truth: prudence is "the mold and 'mother' of all the other cardinal virtues, of justice, fortitude, and temperance. In other words, none but the prudent man can be just, brave, and temperate, and the good man is good insofar as he is prudent."

Prudence is the ability to make right decisions that are based on and informed by reality -- both objective reality, and the facts of a particular circumstance. Here is how Pieper begins his second chapter:
The pre-eminence of prudence means that the realization of the good presupposes knowledge of reality. He alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is. The pre-eminence of prudence means that so-called "good intention" and so-called "meaning well" by no means suffice. Realization of the good presupposes that our actions are appropriate to the real situation, that is to the concrete realities which form the "environment" of a concrete human action; and that we therefore take this concrete reality seriously, with clear-eyed objectivity.

Prudence is both cognitive and imperative. The cognitive aspect has three prerequisites: memory, docility, and solertia, which is the "perfected ability" of "objectivity in unexpected situations." Memory is the true and honest recollection of past events in order to assess current circumstances. Pieper warns agains selective memory or the disortion of past events for whatever reason. To serve the virtue of prudence, our memories must be "true-to-being". Docility is an open-mindedness that recognizes the immense variety of experiences and situations -- the opposite of "a closed mind and know-it-allness [which are] fundamentally forms of resistance to the truth of new things." Solertia is a clear-sighted objectivity that involves a nimbleness of mind, allowing for a proper decision to the good even in unusual circumstances. "All three are focused upon what is 'already real', upon things past and present, things and situations which are 'just so and no difference', and which in their actuality bear the seal of a certain necessariness."

Prudence as imperative involves foresight. Man can never be fully certain of the consequences of his decisions; every decision is a reasoned leap into the unknown. Foresight allows us to estimate the probable consequences of decisions, and, coupled with the cognitive aspects of prudence, allows us to trust that God has given us the ability to make correct decisions with the faculties that He has given us.

This is all quite interesting to me because it's illuminated something I've been pondering lately. At the exits of the freeways around here stand numerous beggars, all holding up cards with sob stories or appeals for money. I've often wondered about the proper Christian response to these people (an academic question, as I never have any cash on me in any case). Reading these chapters on prudence and making correct decisions based on true reality, it struck me that when Jesus was confronted with a beggar, he didn't give money, but instead dealt with the underlying problem of the one facing him -- the "objective reality" of the situation. He healed the lame and gave sight to the blind. In fact, when the penitent woman washed Jesus' feet with expensive spices and Judas complained that the money spent on the spices could have been given to the poor, Jesus replied that the poor would be always with us, whereas soon he would be taken from our sight. (I hope this retelling is correct; I'm pulling from memory.)

Prudence often dictates that we know how our money is to be used for God's glory, such as donating to a documented charity or giving to our parish for the care of the poor. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't work for the alleviation of poverty or refuse to ever give to a beggar, but that our decision must be based on a true understanding of the situation, not simply because we feel bad for the beggar or guilty that we have more. My father, who works downtown, carries rolls of bus tokens to give to those who beg from him -- a concrete means of assistance. (He reports that often gets dirty looks in thanks for his aid.)

I hope I'll be inspired to write more as I progress further in The Four Cardinal Virtues.

Evolution Pespective

John Allen's Word From Rome this week covers the evolution flap from a couple weeks back with several good interviews, including this one with Professor Nicola Cabibbo, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciencies:

Q: What did you think of Cardinal Schönborn's article in The New York Times?
Cabibbo: … The theory of evolution can be disturbing to Christians because it seems to clash with the idea of divine creation. However, this is not true. What clashes with divine creation is an extension of the theory of evolution into materialistic interpretations, the so-called "evolutionism." What evolutionism says, and here I'm thinking about people such as Dawkins, is that there's no need for God. But that is not science, it's not part of what has been discovered by science. … The great intuition of Darwin was that there is an evolution, that different species evolved over time, even if he could not understand the mechanism. … To this, there are two different reactions. One is the atheistic view, saying that we know how it works now, we don't need God. This goes beyond the scientific facts because it is a metaphysical conclusion. The other is the theistic response, believing that God is the cause of this process. … In reality the contrast between evolutionism and creationism has nothing to do with science. They are instead two very different religious and philosophical positions.
What troubles many people is that scientists use words such as 'unguided' and 'unplanned' in referring to evolution. As a scientist, what do those terms mean to you?
Let me come at it from a distance. In Italian, there is a popular saying, non cade foglia che Dio non voglia. ["No leaf falls unless God wants it."] What science does is to try to explain the mechanism by which the leaf falls. … This doesn't mean that what happens doesn't have its own logic, its own way of happening. It's not like we're all puppets in God's hands. It would be debasing to think that God is directly causing every leaf to fall from the tree. Instead there is a system, a mechanism, by which things happen. I think there is no philosophical, no theological, problem here. This was the thought of John Paul II -- there is no a priori reason to see a clash between science and religion.
When Cardinal Schönborn says that purpose and design can be clearly discerned in the natural world, would you agree?
Not scientifically. As a scientist, I cannot draw this conclusion. What I can say is this: If the will of God was to create man, he certainly organized things in a beautiful way to do it. Of course, we know that God wanted to create man by revelation, but we don't know how he did it. This is what science attempts to explain. There should be no problem. There cannot be any clash or controversy between science and religion, because they do different things.
Some creationists argue that on the basis of an examination of the scientific facts, you can conclude that there must be a creator. This is not believed by any serious scientist. … They have found some renegade scientists, or people with some scientific education, to give them some credibility. … You can certainly construct an argument about how beautiful creation is, how intelligent it is, but these are not scientific concepts. It's aesthetic, not scientific.
A more extensive version of the Cabibbo interview is available here.

The Constitution and Human Life

Edward Whelan has an interesting article on National Review Online today, in which he declares John Roberts an 'abortion moderate' as regards the constitution.

Now, before anyone starts shouting, it's interesting to see what Whelan defines as the three possible positions on the abortion vs. pro-life debate as regards the constitution:

1. The pro-abortion position. The first position is that the Constitution prohibits, to one degree or another, laws that protect the life of an unborn human being against her mother's desire to have her killed....

2. The pro-life position. A second position is that the Constitution prohibits, to one degree or another, laws that permit abortion. Under this "pro-life" position, unborn human beings would be recognized as "persons" for purposes of the Due Process Clause....

3. The substantively neutral position. The third position is that the Constitution generally does not speak to the question of abortion. Under this substantively neutral position, American citizens would have the constitutional power to determine through their state representatives what the abortion policy in their own states would be. This neutral position (which three members of the current Court, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas, embrace) also happens to be the proper reading of the Constitution (as I explain more fully here)....

This presents an interesting dilemma for me, and for pro-lifers in general. On the one hand, it seems like the strongest position would be to hold that the constitution protects unborn human life. However (as seen in our own current attempt to overturn Roe and as has been seen in the historical effort that succeeded in overturning the Dred Scott decision) unwritten protections are worth the paper they are printed on.

I think the 'moderate' position that the constitution does not speak to the issue presents us with our best starting point. If we can win that battle, and strike down Roe, we will then be faced with a long series of state-by-state abortion regulation battles. We'll lose some states (most of New England, the West Coast, possibly parts of the northern Mid-West) but in the process we'll also permanently capture other states throughout the south and midwest, and gain a lot of expience in writing good pro-life legislation that works and can gain enough support to pass.

In the long term, assuming that the tide continues to flow in a pro-life direction over the next fifty years (more on that soon) the goal should be a human life amendment. Amendment really is the only reliable form of constitutional protection for unborn life. Looking at history, after the civil war we passed amendments banning slavery and (at least on paper) protecting the rights of all Americans. Had we simply read a slavery ban into the existing text of the constitution, it could have been rolled back simply by shifting the balance of opinion on the court.

The pro-life position described by Whelan may be more satisfying in the short term, but in the long term, the long hard road outlined by the 'moderate' option is probably the best one to take.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mrs. Darwin drags herself to the computer...

Remember that Calvin and Hobbes strip where the slug is getting ready for school, oozing a trail of slime over the house, and the last panel has Calvin's mom asking him why he's so sluggish this morning? If I had any less energy, I would turn into that slug. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we Darwins are practicing what we preach here and reproducing ourselves again. Baby Darwin (henceforth known as "Smaskig", because I said so) is about seven weeks along and is joining its sisters in wearing Mama out.

I am possessed of a heavy, bone-numbing weariness and intermittent waves of queasiness, along with with a mental dullness that settles upon me just as we've received several books from Amazon that I particularly wanted to read with clear mind. Oh well... At least Noogs and Babs have all sorts of energy and have taken it upon themselves to remove everything from the high shelves in the house so that I can find everything on the floor and not have to bother with lifting my head.

Roberts for SCOTUS

Some sound comments on John Roberts' nomination to replace Justice O'Connor on the Supreme Court over at Southern Appeal.

From everything I've read, Judge Roberts is a highly respected lawyer, who is young, soundly conservative, and does not have any published millstones that will hang around his neck during the confirmation process. He's a practicing Catholic and his wife has served as an executive vice president of Feminists for Life.

Several things to think about:
  • Having put forward a fairly conservative white male nominee to replace O'Connor, Bush retains the option of nominating an even more conservative woman or minorty judge when Renquist (or if we were incredibly lucky, Stevens) retires. It's possible (though only 'possible') that a female or minority justice might be harder for Senate Democrats to filibuster, even though they didn't want to let Bush put in two conservative nominees.
  • At 50, Roberts is young enough that if elevated to Chief Justice on Renquist's retirement, he could lead the court for twenty to thirty years. From what we can tell, that would be something conservatives should be very happy about.
  • Although everyone is currently talking Roe v. Wade, an issue that Roberts has very little published history on, it's far more likely that an attempt to impose same sex marriage nationwide will hit the court within the next few years. O'Connor appeared to be the swing vote on such issues, so replacing her with a textualist like Roberts rather than another 'pragmatist' significantly increases the odds against the Supreme court imposing gay marriage.
  • Although only Scalia, Thomas and Renquist have been committed to overturning Roe v. Wade (Kennedy switched sides in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey and has pledged to uphold Roe) this probably would give us a 5-4 majority in cases dealing with partial birth abortion and parental consent, where Kennedy has sided with pro-lifers. It also (assuming that Roberts proves to be solidly pro-life, which those who should know insist he will) means that we are now only one vote away from being able to overturn Roe. Unfortunately, the consensus seems to be that the only way Stevens will leave the court under a Republican president is feet first.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hunger and Thirst

I just found (and am quite impressed by) Bearing Blog, a Catholic parent blogging about life, Catholicism, science, parenting, etc. I'm really impressed with their take on it all.

Among a number of good posts, I noticed this really disturbing one linking to the story of a woman who was starved to death back in '95 ala Schiavo, despite the fact she was conscious and asking for food. However, the court ruled that it was unclear that she was mentally competent when asking for food and water, and so it seemed in appropriate to overturn her previous written directive not to provide artificial nutrition of she was terminally ill. In the end, they had to strap her down so that she wouldn't steal bits of food off other patients trays.

The Killing Fields

I've never been sadder to be close to the mark then when reading this Seattle Post-Intelligencer article about eugenics and abortion (hat tip to Amy Welborn):

Each year in America fewer and fewer disabled infants are born. The reason is eugenic abortion. Doctors and their patients use prenatal technology to screen unborn children for disabilities, then they use that information to abort a high percentage of them. Without much scrutiny or debate, a eugenics designed to weed out the disabled has become commonplace.

Not wishing to publicize a practice most doctors prefer to keep secret, the medical community releases only sketchy information on the frequency of eugenic abortion against the disabled. But to the extent that the numbers are known, they indicate that the vast majority of unborn children prenatally diagnosed as disabled are killed.

Medical researchers estimate that 80 percent or more of babies now prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. (They estimate that since 1989, 70 percent of Down syndrome fetuses have been aborted.) A high percentage of fetuses with cystic fibrosis are aborted, as evident in Kaiser Permanente's admission to The New York Times that 95 percent of its patients in Northern California choose abortion after they find out through prenatal screening that their fetus will have the disease.

The frequent use of eugenic abortion also can be measured in dwindling populations with certain disabilities. Since the '60s, the number of Americans with anencephaly and spina bifida has markedly declined. This dropping trend line corresponds to the rise of prenatal screening. Owing to prenatal technology and eugenic abortion, some rare conditions, such as the genetic disorder Tay-Sachs, are even vanishing in America, according to doctors....

The impulse behind prenatal screening in the '70s was eugenic. After the Roe v. Wade decision, which pumped energy into the eugenics movement, doctors scrambled to advance prenatal technology in response to consumer demand, mainly from parents who didn't want the burdens of raising children with Down syndrome. Now prenatal screening can identify hundreds of conditions. This has made it possible for doctors to abort children not only with chronic disabilities but common disabilities and minor ones. Among the aborted are children screened for deafness, blindness, dwarfism, cleft palates and defective limbs.

In some cases, the aborted children aren't disabled at all but are mere carriers of a disease or stand a chance of getting one later in life. Prenatal screening has made it possible to abort children on guesses and probabilities. The law and its indulgence of every conceivable form of litigation have also advanced the new eugenics against the disabled. Working under "liability alerts" from their companies, doctors feel pressure to provide extensive prenatal screening for every disability, lest parents or even disabled children hit them with "wrongful birth" and "wrongful life" suits....

It's a long article and well worth reading the whole thing.

I don't know what kind of brave new world our country (and the West in general) is slouching towards, but it's going to be a pretty disturbing place.


Sorry no posts this weekend -- we received Harry Potter in the mail on Saturday and spent all weekend reading it aloud (so that one person wouldn't be farther in the book than the other), finally finishing this morning at 1:00 am. A good read, yes, yes. Think I'll just run down to the store and pick up book 7 -- what's that you say? I'll have to wait TWO MORE YEARS? Noooooo....

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Not the Western Way of War

Belmont club here discusses two ways of looking at the "War on Terror". One, comes from a Tech Central Station article by Lee Harris in which he suggests that what Al Qaeda is fighting is not a war, but a blood feud.

Now, these sort of got me thinking a bit.

See, if you think about it, war is rather odd. Some years back, I read a very good book by Victor Davis Hanson called The Western Way of War, which looks into the origins of war in ancient Greece. Much of it is about the development and workings of the Greek phalanx (one of the most powerful military tactics of the ancient world) but it also addresses the development of the practice of warfare in the West.

One of the things he points out, is that war was to an extent a ritual. An army would invade another city state and set about devastating the fields, while the population would fall back behind the defensive walls of a city. Then the army of the invaded city state would go out to confront the invaders. But as Hanson points out, grape vines and olive trees are pretty hard to damage. It's arguable that they could have just ignored the invaders and waited for them to go away, or harassed them from time to time until they gave up. Instead, for whatever reason, the Greeks felt it was necessary to go out and fight. The campaigning season usually lasted only a couple months. And then the war was over -- at least for the moment.

Modern warfare is infinitely more destructive in scope, but in one respect the Western Way of War has remained the same: we think of a war as something that you begin to achieve a specific objective, pour resources into, and then win or lose. Al Qaeda, however, is doing something wholly different. They talk about objectives such as establishing a new caliphate, but none of their actions are calculated to achieve this objective. Nor do they see any necessity of pouring all their resources into their 'war'. Rather, they seek to continue to exist as a threat to us, and to kill some of us every so often.

It is indeed much more like a blood feud than a war. And if bring up the interesting question: How do you fight an enemy like that, without taking the draconian approach of trying to wipe out every person who is a member of the group carrying on the feud? Trying to create stable democracies in the Middle East is certainly one approach, and we may be making some progress on it, but the problem is not that easily solved.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The New (Illustrated) Catechism

If you haven't heard already, some really interesting news about the newest release of the catechism, carefully overseen by Benedict XVI.
There is an unexpected novelty in the new "Compendium" of the catechism of the Catholic Church presented by Benedict XVI on June 28. It features prominently, in full color, fourteen sacred images.
As the pope has explained, the images are not there purely for the sake of illustration. They are an integral part of the new catechism.

They are to be reproduced in all the translations of the "Compendium." And each time they are to be placed in the same position with respect to the text. Each of the images is accompanied by a detailed commentary, with extensive citations from the Bible and the Fathers of the Church.

The first image comes at the beginning of the book, right after the title and the papal "motu proprio" of approval and publication. It is the icon of Christ painted by Theophane of Crete in 1456 for the Stavronikita monastery on Mount Athos.
The whole article is definately worth a read.

Dutch doctors regulate killing of newborns

This article claims that informed consent of both parents is necessary. Will there be many instances of consent? How long before parental lack of consent is overridden by doctors who know better?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Tempest in a tea-potter

Apropos of the Harry Potter fuss, Amy Welborn has published an essay by children's author Regina Doman (who has read the books) on why Harry Potter is not anti-Christian, and some of the strong Christian themes she's found in the series.

Jimmy Akin posts a transcription of an interview with Fr. Peter Fleedwood, the Vatican priest who last year commented positively on the books. Monsignor Fleedwood is "an expert on New Age and former official at the Pontifical Council for Culture." And he's read the books.

And Mark Shea points out that the series encompasses quite nicely the natural virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude) even though it doesn't delve deeply enough to really deal with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.


Today brings us another in the series of "Catholic Church Takes Stupid New Position" articles. And, as before, conservative Catholics are partly to blame, in having pulled in a Church voice of authority in order to back up their pet topic, aided by the mainstream press which is all too willing to make the Church look silly and "out of touch".

LifeSite is to blame, it seems, having dug up a couple of brief letters from two years ago in which then Cardinal Ratzinger thanks a German writer for sending him a copy of her book Harry Potter - gut oder böse (Harry Potter- good or evil?).

What did Ratzinger say to create all this fuss? This is it:
Many thanks for your kind letter of February 20th and the informative book which you sent me in the same mail. It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.

Now, from what I can make out, it seems unlikely to me that Ratzinger has read any of the Harry Potter books, nor did he go out of his way to make any statement on them. He simply replied to a letter by the author of this book saying in moderately generic terms that she was doing good work.

Needless to say, papal opinions on light fiction are not binding on Catholics, and it would be well if both LifeSite and the mainstream press would keep that in mind. Unfortunately, certain people seem all to willing to grab this as a major statement in order to support their own opinions. Here's author Michael O'Brien, quoted in the LifeSite article:
The most prominent Potter critic in North America, Catholic novelist and painter Michael O'Brien commented to on the "judgement" of now-Pope Benedict saying, "This discernment on the part of Benedict XVI reveals the Holy Father's depth and wide ranging gifts of spiritual discernment." O'Brien, author of a book dealing with fantasy literature for children added, "it is consistent with many of the statements he's been making since his election to the Chair of Peter, indeed for the past 20 years - a probing accurate read of the massing spiritual warfare that is moving to a new level of struggle in western civilization. He is a man in whom a prodigious intellect is integrated with great spiritual gifts. He is the father of the universal church and we would do well to listen to him."

The Anchoress has a good discussion of the "Harry Potter issue" on her site.

Amy Welborn also has a thread.

Finally, Pontification offers some sound reflections, and Pontificator's daughter profices some good thoughts from a younger reader's point of view.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Attacking the Homeland

Belmont club samples several news stories covering the recently released information that the four perpetrators of the London bombings were all native born British Muslims.

Stockholm syndrome, kinda

Darwin and I cried last night: we were laughing so hard at Mark Steyn's latest article in National Review. It's subscription only, so let me give you a little taste of the hilarity:
Guantanamo is denounced all around the world as the gulag to end all gulags because of shocking torture revelations such as this:
"A female interrogatore took an unusual approach to wear down a detainee, reading a Harry Potter book aloud for hours. He turned his back and put his hands over his ears."
Good grief, what next? Will they force detainees to sit through PBS plegde-drive weeks, watching the same Peter. Paul & Mary reunion specials over and over, punctuated only by local announcers touting the complimentary Bill Moyers mug you receive for a $200 "level of membership"?
If J.K. Rowling is the Torquemada de nos jours, nothing should surprise us. Nonetheless, even in my jaded state, I was taken aback by the remarks of Andrew Jaspan, editor of the Melbourne Age, one of Australia's biggest newspapers. You'll recall that Douglas Wood, an Aussie taken hostage in Iraq, was recently rescued, and immediately apologized to John Howard and President Bush for a video statement he'd made during his capture calling for the withdrawal of coalition forces. No apology necessary: Obviously such demands are made under duress, and it's only the media's insistence on treating them as a serious contribution to foreign-policy analysis that gives them any currency whatsoever. He then went on to describe his captors as "a**holes", or, if you prefer, "assh***s."
The Age's editor didn't care for this brusque mean-spirited judgmentalism. As Mr. Jaspan told Australia's ABC network, "I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood's use of the a**hole word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought-through and I think demeans the man andis one of the reasons why people are slightly skeptical of his motives and everything else. The issue really is largely, speaking as I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive."
Sweet! To read it all, subscribe to National Review or pick up a copy at your local bookstore.

Here's more on Andrew Jaspan, BTW. I did a google search to find out if he'd ever made any references to Guantanamo, just for comparison, but all I found were a bunch of bloggers saying what I'm about to say: Dude, the prisoners at Guantanamo are fed THREE times a day, and are treated significantly better than Mr. Woods was during his captivity. Sheesh.


I have done a terrible thing, I have picked up a book by Andrew Greeley from the library.

It started innocently enough. I was (for once) at the library without the monkeys in tow, and so I was browsing the new books section. For some reason The Catholic Myth, Greeley's pop-sociology book on Catholicism in post-Vatican II America, was there, despite the fact that it came out in 1990.

Now, I have every reason to be sceptical of Fr. Greeley, but given that he's the only specialist in Catholic sociology that I've actually heard of by name, I thought maybe I should go ahead and see what he had to say. I started flipping pages.

Wow. Goodness knows a lot of people come off sounding self-satisfied in their writing. Perhaps I do at times. But never have I read anyone (and this is including people from Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter to Michael Moore and Al Franken) quite as egotistically self satisfied as Greeley comes off in Catholic Myth.

Now, to be fair, Greeley isn't a partisan hack. I'm sure he makes all "sides" furious from time to time. While on the one hand he describes the Vatican's reasoning on Humae Vitae as "demonic" and asserts that orthodox members of the hierarchy are only interested in their own power, he also criticizes feminists (saying they're right but have only allowed women to be exploited more) and recounts a fairly unflattering anecdote about Cardinal Bernardine (supposedly admitting in rather course language that Humanae Vitae was destorying his diocese, but saying that he needed to keep up the appearance of acceptance in order to curry favor with the Vatican) which that Cardinal apparently insisted was totally fabricated.

What's hard to take, though, about Greeley is primarily his utter assurance that he is an insightful and fascinating person, and that hardly anyone else is. Most if his chapters start with an anecdote following one of the two following patterns:

1) Greeley is forced to put right an impossibly ignorant person who imagines that to be Catholic you need to believe in Catholicism -- and he does so with great tolerance and weariness because he's had to do this so many times before.

2) Greeley has an insight so brilliant that he's himself astounded by it and spends innumerable hours wondering at how brilliant the insight is.

Along with this certain lack of humility in tone, the book is also very light on actual statistics (I suppose this is what makes it pop-sociology instead of sociology) so it reads like several hundred pages of Greeley stating his opinions with an tone of great authority.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A meme, whatever that is

Confidential to Kate: I don't usually bite on these sorts of things, but just for you... :)

What I was doing ten years ago: busting my rear in rehearsals for a musical. Box step, anyone?

Five years ago: busting my rear working at the bookstore during the summer conferences of my alma mater.

One year ago: this is where my memory gets hazy... I couldn't honestly tell you. Probably about what I'm doing now, minus the blog.

Yesterday: Not a whole lot, let me assure you, other than dealing with bathtub disasters, fridge disasters, and bookshelf disasters. All in all, a quiet day.

Five snacks I enjoy: Chips; salsa; chips and salsa; salsa with chips; limeade.

Five songs I know all the words to: Whiskey, You're the Devil; VeggieTales theme song; Silent Night; I Got Rhythm; Caro Mio Ben

Five things I would do with $100 million: Pay off the freakin' college loans; get this for Darwin and this for myself; buy this, donate here; get a house like this.

Five locations I would like to run away to: an Irish pub with a good session; Wadowice, Poland; CINCINNATI; Rome; to the library without bouncy children in tow.

Five bad habits I have: wouldn't you like to know? I do bite my fingernails, but that's all you'll get from me here.

Five things I like doing: snacking (see above); playing Irish fiddle; reading good stuff; solving the world's problems with Darwin; getting through Mass without having to take one of the girls outside.

Five things I would never wear: a teeshirt with a political slogan; a shapeless jumper; a burka; a toe ring; a banana clip

Five TV shows I like: Lost; Samurai Champloo; Full-Metal Alchemist; Masterpiece Theater; the All-Stars section of Brit Hume's news show on Fox

Five biggest joys of the moment: sleeping; reading Crossing the Threshold of Hope; driving at twilight; a full moon; hugging my girls

Five favorite toys: wha...? Not in this house, thank you very much.

Five next victims: Nah, I can't. Let the curse fall!

Evolution vs. Creationism

Since Cardinal Schonborn's opinion piece on evolution and design appeared in the NY Times, there's been much discussion in the Catholic blogsphere about creationism, intelligent design, and evolution. One reader here asked if I would post the book review of Creation Rediscovered that I wrote for New Oxford Review some years back. It turns out, it's on their newly revised website.

Here is my review of Creation Rediscovered.

In the interests of fairness, here's the reaction it generated in the letters column (including one letter from the author -- scroll down a bit to find the letters).

I also wrote a review for them of Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology by William A. Dembski (half-way down the page), but it was neutered of most of my more severe criticisms of ID.

Growing up in a very science oriented family (my father is a planetarium director) which was also devoutly Catholic, the fear of evolution has always struck me as odd and misguided.

If you're interested on reading more about evolution and the "conflict" between science and religion I'd recommend Rocks of Ages by Stephen Jay Gould (an agnostic, but trying to be fair in establishing boundaries between science and religion) and Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth Miller (a Catholic, explaining how he reconciles his religion with his work as an evolutionary biologist).

For the record, I think what Cardinal Schonborn was doing (and could perhaps have done a little more clearly) was emphasizing that regardless of evolution's success in describing the common ancestry of life on earth, evolution cannot speak to the metaphysical questions of what life is and why life is. The fact that the biological process is "unguided" does not mean that life is itself "unguided". All creation relies on the active will of God for its very existence. To assert that because we now know more about the way in which life physically developed on Earth in now way allows us to say that God is in some sense "un-needed". I think that what Schonborn was primarily reacting to in "neo-Darwinism and the multiverse theory of cosmology" is the assertion that while there may be a God lurking somewhere out in the wings, there is no need for him because life must have developed this way regardless of any movement of providence. To that extent, I think Schonborn is completely correct. However, it's unfortunate that all sides of the evolution debate (secularists, creationists, intelligent design proponents) seem to be using this as an opportunity to say "See, the Church rejects evolution". Secularists would like this in order to discredit the Church. Creationists and ID proponents would like it in order to discredit evolution. But I think what we're seeing is in fact a great deal of smoke and very little fire.

Van Gogh-in' my Way

Stanley Kurtz over at The Corner points us to this news article about the trial of Mohammed Bouyeri, the Muslim who killed Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. Bouyeri has shown marked disrespect to the judge and officers of the court, claiming through his lawyer that he recognizes only Islamic law. Wait a few decades, Bub: if Holland doesn't buck up a bit, there won't be enough Dutch left to enforce Dutch law.

Here's the coup de grace, though:

Holland's welfare society had one more surprise to offer. Two senior policemen involved in the final shootout with Bouyeri appeared in court to ask for €3,000 (£2,060) compensation for emotional distress.

Insp Marcel Groenendaal and Brig J S de Ruyter said they had suffered loss of concentration and apathy since the gunfight. Bouyeri rolled his eyes at their testimony, apparently amused.

But the scene disgusted two protesters, watching the hearing in T-shirts bearing images of Fortuyn and van Gogh. One of them, Marianne Houtzager, condemned the police for recalling how they hid on the floor of their car. "They acted like victims, not policemen. We are too soft."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Where Three Or More Are Born...

...there is the key to demographic growth.

A while ago I came across this rather interesting study from Australia about why people have three or more children. A couple of very interesting statistics and trends (remembering that while fairly similar in cultural background, Australia is somewhat more liberal and less fertile than the US):

It cites another study with the following breakdown of who was having children from 1986 to 1996 based on a survey of women who were 30 in 1986.

By 1996 22% of these women (now 40 and so unlikely to reproduce further) had no children.
16% had one child.
35% had two children.
20% had three children.
7% had more than three children.

Now, of the children born to this group of women, more than 50% were born to the 27% of women who had three or more children.

Clearly, while the percentage of women having three or more children is small, their effect on the next generation is huge. Think about it. 27% of the population will be the parents of the majority of the next generation. While 73% of the population will have left behind a minority of descendants. Even accounting for children not following the cultural/moral/political paths of their parents, it looks like fifty years could create a huge change in a population base soley on who is reproducing and who is not.

Based on how important the women with three or more children are to the propagation of the species in Australia, this study sought to look at what factors were predictive of whether a woman would have three or more children. The study identified several factors that predicted whether a woman was likely to have three or more children:

1) Women who had their second child by age 27 were 3.8 times more likely to have three or more children.
2) Women who had not been in an 'other de facto relationship' (i.e. non married, live-in relationship) were 2.6 times more likely to have three or more children.
3) Women who said their first birth was unplanned were 1.6 times more likely to have three or more children.
4) Women who were Catholic were 1.6 time more likely to have three or more children.

It seems to me this gives us a pretty clear picture of the sort of women who are mothering more than half of the next generation in Australia:

Rather than going through a series of live-in relationships your typical mother of three or more married fairly young and had her children in her mid twenties through early thirties. Whether or not she uses artificial birth control, she has a less rigid approach to "planning" than the average woman, and her first child "just happened" not long after she got married. She's probably religious and quite possibly Catholic.

Now, there are two ways to look at this: The study essentially concludes that since early marrying religious women who have not had a previous live-in relationship are currently becoming less common in society, that Australia can expect to see fewer and fewer women have three or more children. In the short term, that seems to be pretty clearly the case. However, in the mid to long term, it may well be that what we are seeing here is the mechanism behind a social mores pendulum at work. As we work down to where a solid majority of children are being born to the minority of families with a more conservative religious and family ethic, the next two generations may see society in turn swinging back to a more generally conservative religious and family climate.

The Queen City

Because I know that you've been reading up on our vacation and have been thinking, "Gee, I really wish I could learn more about Cincinnati!", here is a site called Shall We Gather at the River? An Anti-Tourist's View of Cincinnati, Ohio. There is a page of the site explaining the origins of Proctor and Gamble's Ivory soap. My family lives just blocks from the old Proctor house, and when we lived in LA I directed a Christmas pageant at a small Catholic academy located right next to the Gamble house in Pasadena. Yet I use Dove soap... Obviously one's choices are not dictated by one's surroundings.


Anyone wonder what seminarians these days think about? Well, here's a bit of blog from my favorite seminarian (disclosure: he ain't heavy, Father; he's my brother!) that ties in nicely to our theme here:

So I’m in the hotel room, watching a little thingy about little people. One of the dwarf women was asked whether she would consider having a child now that the technology exists to screen out the fetuses that have inherited the disabilities of the parent.
And what did she say? “At what point do we decide that a fetus has too many imperfections? If we screened out lives because they weren’t perfect, nobody would be alive.”

A very good point. Big wisdom from a little person. There is something I’ve been hearing lately that really disturbs me: this whole ‘quality of life’ thing. I’ll describe it to you as I know it: If a life is not worth living, it shouldn’t be lived. And its advocates will never leave it at that. No, they’ll tell you the worst story of a particular old fellow, wasting away, draining resources, wanting to die, because this particular obscures the flawed universal with which their argument began. But a particular cannot be considered without reference to a universal. It’s not that this shouldn’t be done, but that it can’t be done. If anybody figures out how, tell me and I’ll have a senior thesis.

Anyone want to help my brother out with his senior thesis? And in case you're wondering about the title of this entry, here's my brother's definition:

to seminarian-alize: to take something and comform it to the life of a seminarian;

to seminarian-aliz-ify: to take something and comform it to the life of a seminarian and make it much more complicated than it needs to be.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Tell Us What You Really Think

NARAL shows that liberals aren't in favor of promiscuity but rather health and strong relationships for young people by hosting (I kid you not) a "Screw Abstinence Party".

Can we haul this one out next time someone insists that chastity, faithfulness and morality are not exclusively owned by conservatives?

If one has the stomach to hear about it, Dawn Eden (currently converting to Catholicism) has done great work over the years reporting on the appauling stuff put out by people like NARAL and PlannedParenthood.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Roe Effect, Redux

James Taranto has written again on the Roe Effect, the collision of demographics and abortion views:
The Roe effect, however, refers specifically to the nexus between the practice of abortion and the politics of abortion. It seems self-evident that pro-choice women are more likely to have abortions than pro-life ones, and common sense suggests that children tend to gravitate toward their parents' values. This would seem to ensure that Americans born after Roe v. Wade have a greater propensity to vote for the pro-life party--that is, Republican--than they otherwise would have.

I find his analysis fascinating, as this is a real demographic trend that has yet to be seriously addressed. There are consequences to population reduction, especially targeted reduction. Taranto points out:
More than 40 million legal abortions have occurred in the United States since 1973, and these are not randomly distributed across the population. Black women, for example, have a higher abortion ratio (percentage of pregnancies aborted) than Hispanic women, whose abortion ratio in turn is higher than that of non-Hispanic whites. Since blacks vote Democratic in far greater proportions than Hispanics, and whites are more Republican than Hispanics or blacks, ethnic disparities in abortion ratios would be sufficient to give the GOP a significant boost--surely enough to account for George W. Bush's razor-thin Florida victory in 2000.

Here's a question. If an activist group came across these figures and decided to protest the fact that black and hispanic women have abortions at higher ratios than white women, how would they wage this campaign? Would they demand that abortion be marketed more to white women? Would they cry "Eugenics!" (And they'd be entitled to, in light of Margaret Sanger's positions. Check out this article from Would they demand restrictions on abortion? Stuff to ponder.

My Father's House

At one point in our vacation after a delightful visit with old friends in the east of Ohio, I took the late night drive back to Cincinnati (you can tell it's my home town and not Darwin's because I can spell it). And though it had been years since I had driven that route and this particular evening everything was shrouded in a dense fog, I remembered much of it from the signs I could see.

As we drew nearer to town and the way grew more and more familiar, I was surprised at how much my heart leapt to see even the mile markers with the name "Cincinnati" on them. Someone was celebrating early; as I drove over the Ohio River at 4:45 on the morning of the Fourth of July, I saw a single firework explode. From then on, I knew the way so well I could practically drive it in my sleep (as I was very close to doing): downtown past the stadium, onto 75, then my exit, past areas where even the urban decay has urban decay, then to the neighborhoods where the stately middle-class homes of the last century have been subdivided once and again and allowed to slowly rot. From there up the hill to the working-class neighborhoods of the West Side (never to be confused with the East Side!) -- my old stomping grounds. And though I've not lived there for many years -- not ever, really, since the house was bought after I went to college -- I felt such joy as I drew nearer to the auld homestead and the neighborhood that I knew and loved.

If I was so delighted to come home to a house in which I never even spent much time, how moved should I be to move closer to the house of my Heavenly Father, and by encountering the signposts that point me on the way? "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? ... You know the way that leads where I go." (John 14:2,4)

The Wood of the Cross

We returned from vacation late last night, and so it wasn't until this morning that we noticed that a portion of the fence between our back yard and the back yard of the neighbors behind us was hanging askew (perhaps blown over by the heat wave?). And it wasn't until this evening that we went out to fix it. Fortunately, Darwin could simply step over the fence into the neighbors' yard, because a) they're never home, and b) they're the sort of renters who don't really care what the place looks like. The posts of the fence are on our side, and the boards on theirs, so it was my job to brace while Darwin hammered.

I pushed against the post and grasped the tops of the boards, and I steeled myself (cringed, rather) at the thought of the rough wood vibrating under the blow of the hammer. Thank goodness, I thought, that none of my fingers were remotely in the path of the hammer. Then, of course, I thought of Christ laying on the cross, waiting for the first hammer blow. How many times did the hammer slip and hit his hand? And I found that if I held the fence firmly, with no trepidation, that the vibrations were lessened and the task was completed sooner.