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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Speaking of Counterfeiting

In honor of my counterfeit $10 bill, a story by Giovanni Guareschi:

The Thousand Lire Story

I went down to the center of town to make some pur­chases, and in the end found myself without cigarettes and with a single thousand lire note in my wallet.

I went into a tobacconist's, asked for a package of Swiss cigarettes, and laid the thousand lire note on the counter.

The tobacconist looked at it with interest. "What is it?" he asked.

"A thousand lire note," I replied.

The tobacconist called to his wife, who was reading a newspaper at the other end of the counter.

"Maria, look at this!"

The woman turned her head and without bothering to come nearer glanced at the note.

"Ah," she said, "it's back in the center of town again."

The tobacconist asked if I lived at Porta Volta.

"Lambrate," I said.

"Then it's moved around," he remarked. "It hasn't been here in about a month. We all know it."

I looked at the note again and caught my breath. It was the falsest thousand lire note in the world, so shamelessly counterfeit as to inspire the liveliest disgust.

There ought to be a certain amount of care, profes­sional pride, taken in the production even of counterfeit thousand lire notes. But the note I had in front of me was no more than a free and arbitrary interpretation of a real thousand-lire note.

I handed back the cigarettes and picked up the offending note.

"Too bad!" cried the tobacconist. "But in this life you've got to learn to take the knocks philosophically."

I started off for the parking lot but of course had to give up the idea of reclaiming my car-or of taking a taxi, or even a bus. I arrived home on foot, in an unenviable state of mind.

"Everything go all right?" Margherita asked me.

"Fine," I replied, ashamed to admit I'd accepted the counterfeit thousand-lire note.

"Oh, good!" Margherita cried. "You were able to get rid of that awful counterfeit note I put in your wallet."

I am not speaking here to children, I'm speaking to grown men, to old hands at matrimony. They'll understand: they know that the ladies play these little tricks.

Read the rest.

We're baa-ack!

Unique experiences from our California trip:

The Southwestern desert, most of which now resides in our van, having been tracked in from rest areas.

The tiny bit of Route 66 we crossed at an intersection.

A counterfeit $10 bill, with which I tried to buy baby wipes at a truck stop in the high desert. I was floored when the clerk announced it fake, but she marked it with one of those special pens and sure enough... Good thing I had a credit card. I wonder if the bank will change it for me?

A Starbucks, in Tucson -- about the only Starbucks between Austin and Los Angeles.

Snow, in Lordsburg, New Mexico. The girls were ecstatic.

Did you know that if you're driving across the country on Dec. 27 and you want to get a hotel room, you'd better make a reservation? We do now.

Thanks to the marvel of Stow-Away seating, we were able to transport a cedar chest home from L.A. and still fit everything (including the children) in the van.

Trying to outsmart the girls by wearing them out at a McDonald's with a playground so that Mom and Dad could have a more leisurely dinner somewhere else. This backfired badly, just so you know.

Hope you all had a blessed Christmas! We'll resume substantive posting soon.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Your Baby Has a Tail

The Darwin family is something of a sight when enjoying the free hot breakfast at our motel of a morning. At least one major spill may be expected. The older two scuffle occasionally, stealing food from one another, and the baby slowly shreds food into her lap and shrieks when she runs out of food that's not yet on the floor or in her tummy.

Darwin was over at the waffle maker waiting on his waffle and sipping coffee when the middle-aged, preppy-looking couple (last seen the night before wrestling a german shepard in from their SUV in a 6ft x 6ft cage) came in set themselves down at a table behind him with an air of disapproval and (before settling down to provide loud, socially conscious commentary on the morning news on TV) observed, "I shouldn't have felt bad bringing a dog into the hotel."

Let me know, folks, when that dog starts paying your social security... It may be a little crazy around here, but our offspring are of the same species, and someone's got to do the work of rearing the next generation.

To go or not to go

How're people doing with switching to the new Blogger? It seems like the recommendations that we switch that appear when we log in get increasingly urgent, and I can't help wondering if they'll simply stop supporting the old version at some point. Still, migration is always such a pain...

Painless or nightmare?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Road Trippin'

For all three people wondering where we've been for the past few days, the answer is: in the middle of nowhere.

We squeezed everyone and everything into the van for the long haul from Austin to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with Darwin's family. For the past two days we've been surveying the grandeur of the great southwestern desert, romping at rest stops with signs that warned us to avoid poisonous insects and snakes, and watching tumbleweed blow across the road (literally). I've been busy formulating Mrs. Darwin's first law of travel: if the baby sleeps or sits quietly in the car all day, she will scream all night in the hotel.

Other than nocturnal screaming, the drive went very smoothly indeed. We have arrived safely in L.A. and the girls are having a delightful time playing with Grandma and her toys, which include a large box of plastic dinosaurs. The young paleontologists are in seventh heaven.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top Ten Myths About Evolution

Razib of Gene Expression links to an interesting-looking book out from Promethius Books, The Top Ten Myths About Evolution.

I am often (no pun intended) skeptical of the stuff that Promethius puts out. Their aim of providing critical thinking works for the general public is laudable, but their tendency towards a Skeptics Society point of view as to what critical thinking is often leads them down wrong or overly narrow paths.

However, the selections that are on the site all seem solid and measured. And there's a cute (though distant) relative of ours on the cover. It looks like it's certainly worth a look. I'll have to see about laying my hands on a copy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Where Is He?

On the post below on Evidence, Will and Belief, a thread of comments got going which it seemed to make sense to move up to a new post.

Anon. (fresh from his smashing success writing Greensleeves) says:
We now know that the world works in a mechanistic fashion. Plagues, droughts, floods, etc. that were formerly thought to be the work of God are now recognized as the mindless workings of nature. But the question of how it all began remains unanswered. That's about the only turf left for theists to make their stand.

There is a story that when scientists concluded that there must be intelligent life on other planets Enrico Fermi asked, "But where are they?" It's that kind of reality check which separates science from philosophy.

My point is that after all the philosophical arguments are made for the existence of God we are still faced with that reality check, "But where is He?"

I hope this doesn't fall into the rude habbit of picking at rhetorical trifles, but I'm struck by the phrase "when scientists concluded that there must be intelligent life on other planets". Don't get me wrong, I find it highly likely that there's life on other planets out there. No reason for there not to be, and the probabilities seem (from what we know) to be in its favor. But where exactly could any scientist get off "concluding that there must be"? There's no "must" about any such thing until you have some evidence of it, as Fermi points out in the anecdote.

There's a deeper sense, however, in which I think the anecdote provides a useful metaphor for the discussion here. Let's say these scientists lay out some compelling reasoning for why they believe it highly probably that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Fermi responds: "But where are they?" Now the question is, has he devastated their argument?

I think not. Fermi is right to point out that there's no evidence (other than probability given certain assumptions) that intelligent life does exist elsewhere. However, unless his opponents are suggesting a situation where intelligent life would be so common as to be positively crawling out of the woodwork, his "where are they" rejoiner is only disproves the other scientist's claim to the extent that their claim suggests that the other intelligent life would be near enough (in both space and time) and similar enough to actually provide us with any evidence of its existence. If the theory is that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but it's relatively few and far between, and that highly technological civilizations are even rarer and don't last for terribly long, than a lack of obvious evidence doesn't necessarily do much to disprove the theory. (It's also a fairly speculative theory at that point, since the key prediction, intelligent life, cannot be easily proved or disproved, though the requirements for it -- frequency of the right kind of planets, etc. -- could be successfully attacked or confirmed.)

So, to address Anon's question, for all the philosophical evidence that one may muster to support God's existence, where is he?

One of the things that I often notice in these kinds of situations is that there's a tendency on the part of many agnostics and atheists who have a strongly skeptical bent to adopt a very primitive, almost shamanistic idea of what a supernatural being (if one existed) would be like. Thus, one gets statements such as: "We now know that the world works in a mechanistic fashion. Plagues, droughts, floods, etc. that were formerly thought to be the work of God are now recognized as the mindless workings of nature."

Now, the fact is that humans (including religious ones) have known for thousands of years that plagues, droughts and floods were primarily the result of natural processes. Certainly, those who believe the divine to be active in the world attribute may some natural events to God's direct agency, but few serious religious thinkers in the last 2500 years or so have attempted to attribute all natural events to God's active will. In the Christian tradition, theologians from Aquinas to Augustine and before all agreed that while God clearly allowed the natural processes which caused disasters, disasters should not necessarily be considered the active will of God. This notion even makes an appearance in scripture, where in Luke 13 Jesus comments that those killed in the collapse of the tower of Siloam were no more or less deserving of death than those who were spared.

Nor is this strictly a Christian phenomena. Reading Herodotus and Thucydides one heres of many great disasters, but even in the pagan world of ancient Greece, the cause of the disasters was generally not directly attributed to divine agency, except in the metaphorical sense.

The fact that life changing events are often the result of purely natural causes is thus hardly new. (If I were ever to post one of the lists of laws which so many bloggers compile, at the top of the list would be: Any argument which is based on the claim that basic things about life and the world we live in were not known until "the modern age" is probably flawed.)

So where then is God, if he is not in the mighty wind, and not in the earthquake, and not in the fire? Does he lurk in what Douglas Adams mocked as the realm of philosophy: rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty?

I'd say that in immediate everyday experience there are two things that strongly suggest to me a more-than-physical level of existence. First, consciousness. For all the work that's been done in neuroscience (some of it very, very good), I can't see we're any closer to providing a satisfactory reduction of human thought to nothing more than neurons firing. There is without question a physical element to what goes on "in our heads", but it seems to me also pretty clear that we are mentally more than the sum of our physical parts. That suggests to me something along the lines of what is generally called a "mind" or "soul".

Secondly, it seems to me that there are certain qualities that have objective existence such as "justice", "goodness", etc. (Justifying why I believe this would take a while, so I'll leave that aside for now.) Given that, these qualities must exist in some way that is both non-physical and unchanging.

Again, neither of these will get you directly to the God found in any of the major monotheistic religions, however it is certainly enough, I think, to point on in the direction of looking for something that exists in an eternal and unchanging fashion, beyond the confines of the physical world.

Friday, December 15, 2006

We're Decrying Quietly

Somehow or other I ended up on the New Republic's email list. This just wandered into my email box as part of the advert for the newest issue:
Dick Cheney's daughter is an open lesbian-and now she is pregnant. Her presence would seem to pose a problem for conservatives. How can they decry gay unions and then fail to decry Mary Cheney's lifestyle? In this week's cover story Andrew Sullivan explores the conundrum represented by Mary Cheney and then dissects the conservative reaction to her pregnancy. He asks, is the conservative position on homosexuality sustainable?
Now, I guess if you work for the New Republic you're not expected to actually know or hang out with any conservatives, but this paragraph (what, you ask, can I expect when it's advertising and Andrew Sullivan piece) seems particularly foolish.
  • Who says that conservatives (or at least, the moral conservatives who are the ones who have issues with homosexual behavior anyway) don't decry this. I know I've read several do so. Perhaps this got missed because many social conservatives are actually pretty quiet and polite about the things we disapprove of. Don't assume that just because you equate us with people who bring down airplanes and saw off heads that we'll actually comport ourselves that way in the real world.
  • How exactly is it that the New Republic folks manage to oscillate between wishing the Republicans would 'go back' to their non-conservative roots (as they see them) and then the next minute act as if Republican = Conservative. The fact is, Dick Cheney is not particularly socially conservative, and certainly no one has ever suggested that his daughter is. Nor, I suspect, is it mainly socially conservative concerns that hire her as a lobbyist
  • In what sense exactly does Mary Cheyne having a baby change anything that would make social conservatives beliefs about the morality of homosexual activity untenable? Is it imagined that we've never heard of lesbians going off and finding a way to get pregnant? Is it imagined that we've never heard of Republican politicians having children who go off and do very un-conservative things?

Come on, guys. This is weak...

Fa-la-la-la-lots of fun

Need a carolling fix? Over at The Minor Premise, DMinor has concocted a tale of tuneful tale of Christmas cards.
It was a silent night. We were in our favorite bar, poker was the game, and the hand was down to we three. Kings was peering over his cards, contemplating the deck. The Halls, both of them, had folded from the first. Noel tried to keep his poker face, but he eyed the pot like one who hadn't eaten in twelve days. Of Christmas, everyone in the room thought, since it was no more than a week away. In a Maine jury room I had met most of the players, and we had remained friends. With some people, I could be cold, but frosty these? No, man! I looked at my cards again, lacking one card for an unbeatable hand. I thought of how my fortunes could change just this once. In David's, royal city would win the day. "Ah, good king, when she's lost, look out!" I thought to myself.

I asked, "was the last time we played in the day or evening?" Kings responded, "oh, wholly night." The big Hawaiian rolled his eyes. "The masters in this hall were the houli, and the I.V was necessary to get the rest of the sleepers awake."

I recalled the brawl which had followed the card game. "I heard the bells!" On Christmas day I was allowed to leave the hospital. The girl I was dating at the time, brought me home. I commanded, "Pronto, little town of Bethly!

"Hehm!" she pretended to clear her throat in disgust. Turning to her girlfriend, she said " I should smack the boor's head, Carol!"
Read the rest, and keep the groaning to a minimum, please.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Grandpa, RIP

Thank you all for your prayers -- Grandpa passed away peacefully this afternoon, and I'm sure that he in the company of the angels and the saints.

In honor of a wise and gentle soul, here are two stories of his college days at MIT in the 50s (courtesy of my dad):
Two stories I recall about Grandpa's college days. I heard these from his
own mouth, but all the juicy details escape me. One has to remember that MIT is an engineering school of the most brilliant caliber. Bright and inquisitive minds. Only the elite get into MIT.

1) The bug. One of the guys on the hall of Dad's dorm went home for the weekend, but not by car (maybe by train?). Dad's hallmates were looking for some practical joke to play on him. They decided to disassemble the guy's VW bug and carry it piece by piece from the street into his dorm room. When the guy returned, he opened his dorm door only to find his car sitting in the middle of his floor! The rest of the story I can't recall. (I imagine the jokesters helped him get his car back outside in the same manner.

2) The sink. Dad and some buddies were experimenting with a certain chemical reaction which produced a mild explosion. I think they learned about the reaction in chemistry class and wanted to experiment on a stronger scale then they were allowed to in chemistry lab. So they mixed their chemicals in a lavatory sink. Unfortunately, they mixed their chemicals too potently. The explosion was powerful enough to shatter the sink. They turned off the valves to the sink and started sweeping up the mess. However, the building superintendent heard the explosion, ran to the lavatory, opened the door and caught them red-handed. He was furious and told them he was going to get a high ranking university official, bring him back to the lavatory, and try to get the boys kicked out of school. The superintendent left to get the big boss. Dad and his buddies then went to the supply room, got another sink, installed it, cleaned up the mess, and left. Thereupon the building superintendent returned in a huff with the big boss, opened the lavatory door with a flourish, and showed his boss....a
perfectly clean and functional lavatory!!! When Dad told this, he had us in hysterics. I don't remember the remaining details, except that Dad said he never mixed chemicals in a sink again. I seem to recall that he was careful to stay out of the superintendent's way after this incident.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Evidence, Belief and Will

I had the chance to catch up on John Farrell's blog yesterday, and from there came across an interesting post by Ed of Dispatches From The Culture Wars which dealt with whether a theist could be a positive influence on science:
I reject the notion that belief in God, in and of itself, takes anything away from science education. Ken Miller is a theistic evolutionist. His scientific work is impeccable, as are his efforts in science education. Can Moran point to anything at all in Miller's scientific work that is "sloppy"? I doubt it. Can he point to anything at all in his work on science education, the multiple textbooks that he has authored on evolutionary biology, that is affected in any way whatsoever by his Christian faith? Again, I doubt it.

So what he's really arguing here is that despite Miller's successful work in the laboratory explaining molecular evolution and his astonishingly tireless work on behalf of sound science education all over the country, the mere fact that he believes in God somehow undermines the principles of science. Further, that I should be ashamed for not declaring Miller my enemy as he has. And if your bullshit detector isn't in overdrive right now, it must be broken.

All of this just reinforces my suspicions that we simply are not on the same team and are not working the same goal. My goal is to protect science education. Moran's goal is to protect his atheism against any and all religious impulse, even if held by people who are excellent scientists and defenders of science education. And as his team pursues their goal they seek nothing less than a purge of the most valuable members of my team as we work to achieve ours.

This in and of itself is an important point to be made, but the comments quickly veered off in the more basic direction of an argument of whether religious belief is so irrational that all other views held by a believer were thus suspect. From one commenter:
The belief in a god doesn't necessarily mean that one can't do good science, but it does make all that person's ideas less credible. To believe in something for which not only is there no evidence (like leprechauns and gods) but for which every attempt to find evidence has turned up nothing is to raise doubts about how rational one can be about anything.
Now, anyone how reads much stuff written by skeptics will already be tired of this line of thinking, but this particular statement struck me as so bald in its assumptions that it's actually useful in unpacking some of what's going on in the materialist vs. religious debate.

One basic assumption that those on the "religion is totally irrational" side is that there is no other form of evidence than physical evidence and that there is no other form of inquiry than scientific inquiry. Thus, when one commenter said it was not irrational to accept the existence of non-physical reality, one of the materialist partisans snapped back, "non-physical reality, is that where all the married bachelors live?"

What this person is clearly doing is unconsciously making an assumption about what 'reality' consists of. Many things that we think of as very real in our human experience do not exist in a pure physical form. Some of these are mathematical concepts. For instance, there is no such thing in physical reality as a perfect circle. Does this mean that circles do not exist? We can define a circle mathematically, but all of the circular things that we in fact find in the world are (however minutely) imperfectly circular.

Another set of non physical things which we often believe that we experience (though perhaps imperfectly) constists of qualities such as "goodness", "justice", "love", etc. We experience things that seem to contain these qualities to a greater or lesser degree, but we cannot actually find physical evidence of the qualities themselves. In a given circumstance, a husband giving his wife a dozen roses might be evidence of love. In another circumstance, he might do it so that she won't suspect that he's sleeping with his secretary. Even assuming an infinitely wide frame of reference such that all external circumstances (such as the secretary) were known, no degree of strictly physical evidence can prove the existence of the non-physical quality: love. One could, of course, dispense with the idea of love entirely, and insist that it is simply biologically advantageous in the long term for each mateto believe that the other one has "love" for the other since this creates greater family stability and thus more successful rearing of offspring. This explanation can be seen as responsible for all our experiences of "love" but it is not necessarily satisfying from a human point of view.

This brings us to the other thing that I think often goes un-acknowleged in these kind of conversations: In any given situation, there is often more than one conclusion which explains all of one's experiences with logical consistence, and at such a point, one must make a decision what to believe. This decision is not merely arbitrary. Usually you will make it because you are convinced by one of the experiences or observations which make up the "evidence" that you are weighing.

In a classic example, it is logically consistent with one's observations of the world to conclude either that there is an outside world populated by other thinking, acting entities or to conclude that one's entire experience of the world is the result of a demented imagination, and there is in fact one reality but one's self. Both explain all of one's experiences and are logically consistent. However, since solipsism if profoundly un-useful, few people choose to believe it.

Similarly, long before monotheism became dominant in the West, pagan philosophers had worked around to the idea that since no thing exists without a cause, and since an infinite regression of causes doesn't make any sense, that there must be a single, eternal, uncreated thing which existed by its nature and was in turn the cause of all other things. The "unmoved mover" proof of God's existence thus goes back further than Christianity does. However, modern non-believers generally laugh it off with a "If you can believe God exists without a creator, why not believe the universe exists without a creator?"

The answer is, of course, that one can. The force in the "unmoved mover" argument is that our experience generally tells us that normal physical things always have causes, and thus the universe as a whole must have a cause while is wholly different from all those things which we normally experience. However, if one is ready to instead believe that just this one time the physical universe behaved in a way wholly different from how we've ever experienced it to behave, that belief is also fully self consistent. One must, in the end, make a decision which metaphysics to believe. The evidence cannot make that decision for you. There is no one conclusion which is so overwhelmingly clear as to be unavoidable. Rather, if one is willing to accept the implications of either, one may then adopt that belief with full logical rigor.

At the end of the day, belief in God, or belief in a spouse's love, or belief that all men are created equal, or what have you may be supported by an incredible amount of evidence, but the belief itself is a choice. The evidence will take you so far. Belief does not have to be some sort of "blind leap". But it is a crossroads, and one must decide which way to go.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Resting easier

My dad tells me that Grandpa seems much more peaceful since his tubes were removed and his defibrillator deactivated last night. As it turns out, he never actually felt any pain, since the pain centers above the brain stem were all dead, but there's no more involuntary jerking and thrashing and bleeding. The family is much more relaxed now that Grandpa is in God's hands, and I thank you for all your prayers and kind words.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Now and at the hour of death...

Between 7:15 and 7:30 EST (essentially, right now) Grandpa will be taken off life support. He's not expected to live much longer after the tubes are removed -- a week is an extremely generous estimate, but less than a day is much more probable, given his physical condition.

Please keep him in your prayers tonight.

Why No Species Solidarity?

When visiting the grocery store this weekend, I found myself parked next to a mid-size SUV with a back end nearly covered with bumperstickers. This is usually a bad sign in regards to the moderation of the driver's opinions, and indeed this person had chosen to display on their back-end (sometimes repeated several times) thoughts such as "Bush is a Chump-Ass Punk", "I [heart] my [dog]", "I'm Pro-Choice and I Vote" and "Keep Austin Planned".

Why is it that advocating that fewer humans be born so often seems to come with a great devotion to the care of other species, whether endangered ones or domestic? Where's the species loyalty?

I wonder if in part this trends stems from a tendency to think of the person as a free floating individual defined by mind and memory rather than a member of a family, state, species, etc. which constitutes a revolving population in which our place is to grow up, care for others, reproduce, rear the next generation, and eventually die. This "circle of life thing" seems to have been clearly (though perhaps not consciously) understood and accepted in pre-industrial societies, but as it has become easier to think of ourselves as little eternal being in the abstract, primarily an individual rather than part of a great chain on beings, I think people lose track of it.

Thus, animals assume greater importance to the extent to which they form cherished parts of memory and everyday experience. And having offspring is often seen as an obstacle to fulfillment rather than one of the primary purposes of one's life.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Your prayers requested

A week ago, my grandfather had a heart attack and was rushed to the emergency room. It seemed very likely that he would die that night, but he was revived and has spent the last week in a vegetative state. The family had been waiting for reports on whether Grandpa was likely to regain brain function (since he spent more than five minutes without oxygen), but his afternoon they learned that Grandpa has been essentially brain dead since the heart attack and has no hope of recovery. After much consultation with doctors and priests, the decision has been made to take him off life support (in accordance with his wishes, expressed as recently as Thanksgiving weekend), retaining only an IV for nutrition and pain medication.

If you would be so kind, please pray for a peaceful and blessed death for Grandpa, and for my grandmother and all my father's family during this difficult time.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hide Your Children

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the nursery...


This is surprisingly disturbing....

H/T to commenter TJR.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'll tell you who does more chores...

The Wall Street Journal has an article today telling us that gender equality has NOT seeped into the home yet. According to "a nationwide study by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research", boys (ages 10-18) are more likely to be paid for doing chores, even though girls the same age spend 30% more time doing work around the house.

Aw, nuts. I'll tell you who does more chores. I'm the oldest of six. Darwin is the oldest of three. I realize, of course, that the plural of anecdote is not data, but we both know from experience that the oldest child does more work around the house than his or her lazy siblings. There's a big chore that requires the attention of someone trustworthy? The oldest. Putting away dishes and need someone who can reach the top shelf? The oldest.

C'mon, Wall Street Journal. Let's see a study about the correlation of birth order with chore expectation. And you pampered younger siblings out there -- take out the garbage this minute.

Some Thoughts on "Double Effect"

One of the trickier concepts within traditional Catholic moral theology is that of "double effect". The basic idea here is, one may perform certain actions with a morally acceptable intent, despite that the fact that certain undesirable results are known to be almost certain to result as well.

Thus, according to classic moral teaching, it is unacceptable to will to kill another person, but it acceptable to will to stop an intruder from threatening your family by pointing a .45 automatic at him and pulling the trigger. (I'll use the example of self defense throughout, since that's one of the most classic examples of double effect.) Your will is to stop him from causing harm, while his death (if it occurs) is a foreseen but undesired consequence. (Thus, one goes from self defense to murder if the intruder is writhing helplessly on the ground after the first shot and you step over and fire a second shot to finish him off: There is no sense in which such an action is necessary for self defense, and so the only possible object of your action is to kill the now wounded assailant.)

Now, the principle of double effect clearly handles some very important moral questions, and I don't for a moment want to sound like I'm saying it doesn't make sense or should be thrown out. However, it does seem to present a certain potential for tying ones self up in mental knots.

I think the trouble area tends to be the "undesired but foreseen" element of the double effect. A lot of people seem to have difficulty with the idea of foreseeing something clearly as the result of an action without actually willing it. Thus, in cases of self defense, some err on the side of saying that one cannot justify any defensive action which one can foresee with near complete certainty will result in the death of the attacker. Others err in the other direction, believing that by virtue of being an attacker, the assailant in a self defense situation essentially cedes his life, and any action against him is justified.

The right balance, I think, is to understand that the killing of an attacker is morally justifiable only to the extent that it is necessary in order to achieve the goal of defending the innocent. One the one hand, the principle of double effect does not require that a defender hold back on the force he uses, so long as the use of greater force actually achieves defense with more certainty. And yet, once the threat is averted, further use of force is not morally acceptible.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The life cycle of the common bug

The babysitter was here last night and we were just about to leave when I hear a call from the kitchen: "MrsDarwin, Babs just threw up!"

And so she had -- her entire dinner, over her entire outfit. It took about 45 minutes to get her cleaned up and medicated (if your child hates Pepto-Dismal, it's helpful to administer it while she's in the tub). We feared we should have no birthday dinner, but finallly she fell asleep and we were able to sneak out for an hour or two.

In the middle of the night Darwin woke up feeling indisposed and proved that this bug is indeed contagious. And Babs toddled in to stand beside me and tell me that she wanted to sleep with us because she'd thrown up in her bed. Sheets were changed, foreheads were felt, temperatures were taken. Darwin is still curled up in bed, ready to welcome death when it comes to bring him sweet release. Babs whimpered and moaned herself back to sleep (breathing right on me, I might add), and was generally piteous until I called to cancel her dental appointment. Now she's eating tortilla in the living room and demanding orange juice. Ah, the resilience of the young!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I remember MrsDarwin Redux!

In honor of MrsDarwin's birthday, we revive a popular meme posted here on this day last year.
If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, even if we don't speak often, please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL MEMORY OF YOU AND ME.

It can be anything you want--good or bad--BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE.

When you're finished, post this paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people DON'T ACTUALLY remember about you.
Here are all the egregious falsehoods our readers concocted last year. Good times, good times...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Research info needed

A reader sends a question:
For a final project in one of my speech classes this semester (I am actually a communications major, minor in psychology) I have to give a persuasive speech. I think I might do it on Embryonic Stem Cell Research (convincing them that it is unnecessary, as well as immoral). I was looking through your previous posts (on blogspot), but wasn't able to find anything. If you have some info that you could share with me, or if you know of any good sources that I should check out, I would be very grateful.
I recommended the blog Mary meets Dolly, but if any of you have suggestions, feel free to post them.

Escaping Original Sin?

I've been following this thread over on Et tu, Jen with a certain amount of interest, in part because it involves a fascinating mix of people. One comment from a Catholic-turned-atheist struck me as worthy of brief discussion, simply because it seemed so out of left field:
It wasn't until I finally started allowing myself to buy reality that I started to feel better. Today, I'm an atheist and proud of it. Damn, it's great to be free of the shackles of "original sin"!
Now, I have a skeptical enough turn of mind to have a certain degree of sympathy for certain brands of agnosticism, if not atheism, but this I have trouble wrapping my mind around. If there's one thing that seems clear about humanity, it's that our instinct tend towards evil awfully easily. Even if one discards the idea of 'evil' in a moral sense, humans fall to self destructive impulse (good neither for themselves nor for society) terribly easily. With the higher cognition with makes us capable of living in complex, tool using societies comes an oft-misguided willfullness. (You don't see ants or gophers indulging in self destructive and anti-social tendencies to the extent that humans do, though our primate relatives can give us a pretty good run for our money.)

So how exactly could discarding belief in God mean escaping original sin? Original sin is essentially the idea that as a human tribe we bear a (self inflicted) warped will, one easily led astray from 'the good' to the persuit of that which seems good, but is indeed far from it. If one believes in the Christian God, that means that we are born at a distance from God, wandering in our own created wilderness, tending to follow our own compass rather than God's. If one does not believe in that conception of God, it hardly changes this tendency in humanity. It just leaves it unexplained and with no where to go back to from that state of moral wandering.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Atheists Against Scientism

It seems that in the wake of Richard Dawkins' latest book, The God Delusion, something of an internal skirmish has broken out in some atheist cirles.

Razib of Gene Expression links to a post by Chris of Mixing Memory which contains the following critique of the Dawkins brand of atheism:

I've tried several times to write posts about the post-God Delusion blog clustersomethingorother, with all the reviews of Dawkins, reviews of reviews of Dawkins, and reviews of reviews of reviews of Dawkins, along with the side debates that discussion has spawned, but each time the posts came out sounding really nasty, so this is all I'll say about it. I find it hypocritcal and, as an atheist, more than a little embarrassing that these fundamentalist, Dawkinsian, scientistic, self-styled free thinking atheists, who know jack about the history of religion, or serious philosophy and theology, feel that they can criticize religious fundamentalists for saying things about science (in the evolution-creationism debate, for example) when those religious fundamentalists are clearly ignorant of the science, but have no problem making grand claims about the rationality of religion or its practical implications. I can't help but think that they feel they're justified in this because they have a distinct sense of intellectual and, perhaps, moral superiority over the religious. This sense of superiority is reflected in the make up of the "Beyond Belief" panel, which is comprised, for the most part, of scientists who study things that are completely unrelated to religious doctrine and faith (except in superficial ways, such as the fact that modern cosmology and evolutionary biology rule out a literal interpretation of Genesis). If creationists had put together a panel of theologians to talk about the science of modern cosmology and evolutionary biology, these same atheists would write post after post about how ignorant and dishonest the whole thing was.

I firmly believe that science has absolutely nothing to say about the validity most theology, and most theology has absolutely nothing to say about the validity of science. Furthermore, I recognize, unlike Dawkins' epigones, that "evidence" is not something that exists outside of an interpretive framework, and that it's possible to rationally interpret the "facts" of the world as providing evidence for the existence of God or gods. The same is true when it comes to logical and moral arguments for and against the existence of God.

In a followup post, Chris goes on to distinguish between an aethism of rational skepticisim and an atheism of "suspicion", by which (if I understand correctly) he means a healthy understanding of the inability of one's senses and reason to get at the true reality of a situation. My issue with this sort of folded-back-on-itself doubt is that it seems so fundamentally un-useful that you need to ignore it when engaging in practical reasoning. This doesn't necessarily mean that it can't be true, but it doesn't strike me as being how the world works.

Naytheless, I fully agree with Chris's assessment of the arrogance of spouting off judgements on the history and nature of theology and philosophy when one has taken precious little time to actually learn anything serious about either discipline. There's a casual conviction that many have that theology consists of nothing more than some just-so stories and rationalizations that anyone could have thrown together. Regardless of whether one believes in a theological tradition, there's clearly much more to it than that. It speaks to the intellectual seriousness of atheists like Chris and Razib that they take the time to understand what they're rejecting rather than being swept up in Dawkins' straw man show.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

This one's for you, Fidei

I know I'm late to the party here, but I laughed until I cried at Stephen Colbert's liturgical dance.

There may be debate about whether the guy is really an orthodox Catholic or just doing a good imitation, but you can't deny that he's funny.

H/T to Matthew Lickona.

Taking it for granted

It's been brought home to me lately how much I owe my parents for their careful attention to my religious upbringing and education.

We had dinner Saturday night with blogger Jennifer F. and her husband (see here for her description of our coolness), both of whom are in the process of entering the Church. Over the course of various and wide-ranging conversation, they remarked several times on how fortunate we were to have families that were so committed to giving us a strong religious and moral foundations. Having been brought up without the early moral training that Darwin and I both received, they were able to give us a new perspective on something we too often take for granted.

I've always felt that I was very fortunate to be brought up as a Catholic and to be well-instructed in my faith. But too often that gratitude is overshadowed by nit-picking the way things were done when I was growing up, or by criticisms of the way my parents handled married life and certain personal problems. My parents divorced when I was 21, and part of my own married relationship is influenced by a desire to avoid the mistakes they made. And I have -- because my good judgment was influenced by the moral precepts and solid reasoning behind the Catholic teachings my parents handed on to me.

The oldest parlor game in the book is matching up parental defects with their offspring's grievances. I'm guilty of playing it myself. And yet any wrongs my parents may have done me by being less than perfect are so far outweighed by all their hard work to ensure that my siblings and I really understood our faith, and all their sacrifices so that we might live in an environment where that faith was loved and respected and lived authentically. As a result, all six of their children are committed Catholics, and two of my brothers are considering the priesthood. That's a legacy to be admired.

Hearing Jennifer and her husband talk about their conversion process and regretting decisions that would have been different if they'd been given a strong religious and moral foundation early, I realized how blessed I've been to have had my Catholicism influence my entire life, guiding my choices and preserving me from the effects of my own unaided floundering.

SCOTUS meets Global Warming

If there's something that promises to make even more of a circus of science related reporting than ID cases getting pushing into the courts, it's the Supreme Court trying to rule on whether global warming exists, and if so whether the EPA is obligated to stop it.

I suppose that as long as the federal government is considered to be the caretaker of the world, one must expect things like this to happen. Still, a case hinging on whether Massachusetts is measurably losing coastline as a result of the EPA failing to regulate CO2 as an pollutant seems designed to generate more heat than light.

The Globe provides a dose of alarmism with its reporting saying:

"One expected consequence of global warming is melting polar ice caps, which could raise sea levels around the world and cause massive flooding in coastal areas, swamping several US cities. Other potential problems include the vast elimination of sea life because of the oceans' absorption of deadly carbon dioxide and the mass migration of species toward the earth's poles."

Newflash to Boston Globe: that "deadly carbon dioxide" is also known as "food" to the plant algae which is the most plentiful form of life in the oceans. The which algae in turn released oxygen and provides food to larger organisms. It's a circle of life thing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

And They'll Know We Are Christians...

There's nothing more jarring than reading a blistering email filled with "I hate, hate, HATE this" and "I don't care why, just FIX IT!!!" and then seeing it signed "In Christ," or "God Bless!"

I'm sure Lewis must have said something clever about this kind of thing in Screwtape Letters or Great Divorce, and not being nearly as clever as Lewis, I won't try.

However, one thing that's been brought home to me lately in other areas is that you never know when you're unknowingly serving as an example of what it's like to be a Christian. (Or whatever other system of beliefs you may be a proclaimed member of.) Which makes seeing rudeness followed by proclamations of religious sentiment doubly troubling.

Our new delivery

Behold, our new baby:

The little dear arrived safely yesterday, and is 45" high and weighs a ton. I'm glad I didn't have to do the pushing on this one.

Playing the piano is like riding a bicycle: you never really forget how to do it, but if it's been a while you feel rusty and a bit embarrassed to do it in front of anyone. Flipping through our new book of piano classics, I recognized a lot of old friends. I'm not sure they recognized me, though. Well, you know the old joke.

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: Practice, practice, practice.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Skilled Nation

Having ridden to power (in part) simply by virtue of not being Republicans, there seems to be a certain degree of excitement amount the new congressional majority as to what they should do now that they're in charge.

Falling back on the "two Americas" rhetoric from the '04 presidential campaign, one answer seems to be: decrease the income gap. How to do this is, of course, tricky. While nearly everyone is ready to speak out against 10mil bonuses for CEO's whose companies are losing money, in order for a tax bracket to make any significant amount of money for the government it has to hit much lower down as well. Taxing the 200k+ bracket is the traditional way of taking it to the rich. Yet while most Americans make much less than 200k (goodness knows I do) a lot of us know people who do make that much, and maybe even aspire to make that much. And as a result, slapping 75% taxes on all income over 200k (which would be the serious wealth re-distribution approach) is not nearly as popular as you might think.

Yet, the income gap, both within our own country, but much more so between our country and other less fortunate countries, is the sort of thing that naturally inspires the desire to "do something".

I would dispute the idea that the gap between rich and poor is wider now than it has ever been. In the first hundred years of our country's existence, the gap between the haves and the have nots was so wide that in some parts of the country, that in some parts of the country more than fifty percent of the human population was owned by the "top ten percent".

However, the income gap is especially apparent right now in part because the middle class is in the process of splitting in two, and the dividing line is that oddly charged term "skilled labor". I feel a trifle odd talking about being on the "skilled" end of the divide when there are a great many things I can't do. A cabinet-maker has an incredible degree of skill which I could not match, and at producing a permanent, well crafted product. I, on the other hand, write web page code and database queries. However, a cabinet maker's income is limited by the maximum profit after materials that he's able to derive from selling the cabinets he makes. If he spends two weeks working on a truly set of cabinets, his personal income relies on how much he's able to charge for the one set of cabinets produced during those two weeks.

The "modern worker" on the other hand often makes his income by skimming a very small percentage of a very large pool of money which is effected by his work. One of the database jobs I've worked on involved evaluating the pricing of 5000 product SKUs every week and making adjustments in order to maximize revenue or margin based on the calculated responsiveness of the products to price changes, and whether the executives want more revenue or more margin at the moment. One week's price changes might produce projected 13-week incremental revenue of 10-20 million, or up to a million in incremental margin. Sure, it took a certain degree of mental skill, but the main thing that made that such well-compensated work was that the monetary results of your work were so large compared to the number of people involved (the team making price changes was only four people) that the case for paying those people a decent income was pretty strong.

Two groups of people seem to me making large amounts of money in the skilled economy: people like doctors and lawyers whose jobs require long and intensive periods of study (which most people lack the time, inclination or ability to go through) and people holding jobs which can effect very large amounts of money with a small number of people.

Unfair though it seems from a cultural perspective, the technicians who build Steinway pianos by hand make significantly less than the advertising and marketing people who have inflicted Bratz dolls upon the world. And in strictly economic terms, this actually makes a fair amount of sense.

Within the world of those whose productivity is limited by physical labor, (either the blue color labor of assembling a product or the white collar labor of answering phones or manning cash registers) those with the higher skills (like the Steinway technicians) do make a good deal more than those without (say, fruit pickers).

Accentuating this divergence between these two groups of workers is the increasingly global economy. Unless one is a hopeless nationalist, it seems hard to justify the claim that someone assembling stuffed bears in a factory inherently deserves to make more because he lives in the United States rather than in Indonesia. If the Indonesian works for $1.75/hr while the American works for $11.75/hr, and your goal is to sell bears for 9.99 a piece, the US worker needs to be significantly more productive than his Indonesian counterpart to win out. For many decades that was the case, with the US on the cutting edge of developing new efficiencies in manufacturing. However, others have learned from our success, and today manufacturing facilities in developing nations are often incredibly high quality infrastructures.

And yet we can't be an entire nation of high skill, high productivity workers. The spectrum of human abilities, personalities and desires is such that it simply cannot be the case that all US workers would could do high skill work while exporting absolutely all manual and low skilled work to other countries. Which leaves the question: is there any just way to keep the income gap between someone who produces one $9.99 stuffed bear every ten minutes and someone who sets pricing for the entire toy line from widening? Should we try to reduce an income gap which is mainly the product, not of the wages of bottom rung workers going down, but of high skill/high productivity workers going up?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Don't argue English with Tolkien

Apparently Tolkien was so in love with archaic spellings that he spelled "climbed" as "clomb." This was regularly edited out of his published works, so most people don't know about it, but he did manage to keep less obvious variations such as "dwarves." One time a woman informed Tolkien that his spelling was wrong, as the OED said "dwarfs."

"Madam," said Tolkien, "I wrote the Oxford English Dictionary."
An anecdote from Darwin's sister, who is the secretary of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. (And you thought your extra-curricular activities were something to write home about...)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Peter Jackson says he's not directing The Hobbit

Hat tip to commenter TJR for the news that Peter Jackson won't be directing The Hobbit:

Several years ago, Mark Ordesky told us that New Line have rights to make not just The Hobbit but a second "LOTR prequel", covering the events leading up to those depicted in LOTR. Since then, we've always assumed that we would be asked to make The Hobbit and possibly this second film, back to back, as we did the original movies. We assumed that our lawsuit with the studio would come to a natural conclusion and we would then be free to discuss our ideas with the studio, get excited and jump on board. We've assumed that we would possibly get started on development and design next year, whilst filming The Lovely Bones. We even had a meeting planned with MGM executives to talk through our schedule.

However last week, Mark Ordesky called Ken and told him that New Line would no longer be requiring our services on the Hobbit and the LOTR 'prequel'. This was a courtesy call to let us know that the studio was now actively looking to hire another filmmaker for both projects.

Ordesky said that New Line has a limited time option on the film rights they have obtained from Saul Zaentz (this has never been conveyed to us before), and because we won't discuss making the movies until the lawsuit is resolved, the studio is going to have to hire another director.

Given that New Line are committed to this course of action, we felt at the very least, we owed you, the fans, a straightforward account of events as they have unfolded for us.

We have always had the greatest support from The Ringers and we are very sorry our involvement with The Hobbit has been ended in this way. Our journey into Tolkien's world started with a phone call from Ken Kamins to Harvey Weinstein in Nov 1995 and ended with a phone call from Mark Ordesky to Ken in Nov 2006. It has been a great 11 years.

This outcome is not what we anticipated or wanted, but neither do we see any positive value in bitterness and rancor. We now have no choice but to let the idea of a film of The Hobbit go and move forward with other projects.

We send our very best wishes to whomever has the privilege of making The Hobbit and look forward to seeing the film on the big screen.

New Line had better tread carefully here -- without Jackson any prequel will feel oddly disconnected to the extremely popular (and award-winning) Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Will Ian McKellan and Ian Holm still want to be involved if Jackson isn't directing? I wonder if New Line will find themselves rethinking this decision -- seems like it's going to hurt them more than it will damage Peter Jackson and Co.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Women to Watch

Yesterday's WSJ was devoted to women in business. Along with a special insert featuring the top 50 women to watch for 2006, the paper ran an interview with six top business women and devoted its leadership column to the subject. And what are the most successful businesswomen in the world saying these days?

Frances Aldrich Sevilla-Secasa, president of U.S. Trust: ""I have two teenagers and a 10-year-old. I have a husband. I have elderly parents. And I travel probably 90% of the time. So I have often not been there for very important events at school, sports tournaments and plays my children were in. I probably missed about five of the past 10 anniversaries with my husband, whom I've been married to for 22 years. I'm not there often in the mornings to wake up my children, to have breakfast with them, to take them to school. So I missed out on a lot of those things, and so have my children.

So there are a lot of sacrifices and choices you have to make along the way. But I don't think it is all bad. I think you make those choices because there are trade-offs. What I've done to the extent that it's possible is incorporate my children and family into my career."

Color me unimpressed. Lost in these interviews is a sense that not all sacrifices are of equal importance. It's not exactly an honor when a mother says that she's done her best to incorporate her child into her career, as if the child were extra baggage on the road to success. Or, as Ursula Burns, a corporate senior vice president of Xerox, and mother of two teenagers, puts it, "We have to let go of external expectations of what it means to be a successful mother, wife, and business person, and each define that for ourselves. No one will die if you don't show up at every business meeting or every school play."

No. Your child won't die if you don't show up at his school play. It takes a lot to kill a child. As far as I know, with the exception of a few instances in the toddler years, equating success with merely keeping the kid alive means defining motherhood down, far down.

"Ultimately, it's a juggle," says Nancy Peretsman, managing director and executive vice president of Allen & Co. "I think what your family, friends, partners, and clients have to understand is that when it is really important, you will be there for them. If they believe that, you get to maneuver a little bit more." I'm not certain about the dynamics of Ms. Peretsman's family, but at my house if I constantly tell my children that I'll help them draw pictures in just a few minutes and then keep starting other tasks, they eventually stop believing that I'm going to help them. If my husband tells me every night that he only has a few minutes of work to do and then sits all evening in front of the computer, I don't believe him when he says he's taking the weekend off. If a friend is always offering to watch my kids but is never available when I ask her, I'll turn to someone else when I have a pressing need. Trust is built up through small actions.

All of the women interviewed pan the idea of "balance" as a myth. That's not surprising -- I have the same problem myself at home. Some days, if I get the laundry done, the dishes suffer. If I do all the dishes and clean the living room, we can't get to the library. I do try and juggle different tasks, such as writing a blog post and nursing the baby at the same time, but something's always going to be left undone. But my actions show where my heart is. I can't claim that education is my top priority if I never make the time to read to my children. I can't claim that time with my husband is a priority if I'm always going off on "Girls' Night Out".

And on that note of "Where your heart is, there will your treasure be", comes the now much-derided interview with Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, in the New York Times.

How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

At least the business women in the WSJ seem to think that raising a family is a worthwhile thing to pursue, even if it does conflict with a hot career. Bishop Schori gives us to believe that the idea of having children is slightly dirty and best left to the unwashed masses. Guess I'll just have to remain a Stoopid Kathlik (TM), even though I don't have enough schooling to understand the theological reasons for my constant breeding. Then again, maybe Kate's on to something there -- Pope Benedict has a far better education than she does, and we notice that he has no children. Must be for theological reasons.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No children, thanks, we're travelling

A few weeks ago, in the course of my visits for the fundraising campaign, I called upon a family who had been members of our parish for many years. My girls, who had come along because Darwin was working that night, ran around outside and climbed the playscape as I admired the back yard. The woman mentioned that they'd been thinking of taking down the playscape, as all her children were too old to use it. As she'd said earlier that her oldest had just gotten married, I remarked that perhaps she would have grandchildren soon who might enjoy it.

"No," she said, "they don't want children. They're planning to travel. I don't need grandchildren anyway -- I've waited this long for my kids to grow up!"

It occurs to me that something has broken down on a very basic level of catechesis when a woman who has been Catholic all her life and is an active member of her parish feels free to make that kind of statement to someone visiting on behalf of the diocese.

There are several issues with this statement.

1) "They don't want children." Having just been married recently, the young couple must have gone through marriage prep in the past months. Did the priest ask them if they would willing accept children? Did they lie to him about their intentions?

2) When a couple (or a member of one of their families) is so willing to state glibly that they're not planning to have children, it's most likely that they're planning to use birth control to effect this state. Again, how effective was their recent marriage prep? Did they take NFP classes? Worse, did they take the classes and ignore them?

3) Tossing off a statement like that to me assumes several things: that she doesn't have a problem with her own child deciding not to have children in order to travel; that she doesn't think I would have a problem with a couple deciding not to have children; that there's nothing inconsistent with mentioning that a Catholic couple plans not to have children in the context of a visit from a Catholic for a Catholic cause.

On the other hand, I guess we can assume that the couple won't be passing on their views...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Comes the Phone Bank

The diocesan capital campaign (for which I've been doing volunteer work) is drawing to a close, and our parish is moving from personal visits to prospective donors to phone work. Last night the volunteers set up a phone bank in the parish center to work our way through a portion of the 90% of the parish that hasn't yet been contacted.

Cold calling must be one of the most miserable jobs going, but fortunately this campaign has been mentioned from the pulpit every Sunday for the past two months. Everyone I got through to had heard of it and were even interested in giving, maybe. None of them were ready to make a decision on their pledge, despite months of prep work on the part of our pastor and the diocese. I see now why personal visits were so heavily emphasized in the earlier phases of the campaign.

I also learned that I don't have exceptional telemarketing skills. Others in my group were racking up the donations, but I just couldn't close a sale. I do think the campaign is a worthy cause, but I suppose I was too ready to accept excuses for why people who said they were planning to give couldn't make a decision right now. Time to sit at the feet of Darwin and imbibe his marketing expertise (and also reap the benefits of the several months he spent managing a fund-raising call center while we were in college).

I suppose that people in general have a tendency to put off making decisions until pressed. Many people I spoke to said that they hadn't even thought about what they wanted to give, despite the campaign (which, obviously, involves monetary donations) being highly publicized for weeks from the pulpit, in the bulletin, and through diocesan mailings. Make up your minds, people! The campaign is drawing to a close with or without you, and you know what they say about good intentions.

"And I am giving counsel in this matter, for it is appropriate for you who began not only to act but to act willing last year: complete it now, so that your eager willingness may be matched by your completion of it out of what you have." (2 Cor. 8:10-11)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Congratulations are in order

Our heartiest congratulations to commenter Big Tex and his wife on the birth of their daughter. The young miss weighed in at a whopping 11 lbs and was the first of her siblings not to arrive more than a week after her due date.

German beer on the house tonight!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Christology 101

Deep thoughts at breakfast:

"When Jesus was the lamb of God, did anyone pet him?"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Jennifer of Et tu, Jen wrote the other day about whether priests receive any kind of MBA-style training for the business of running a parish. (After all, the average parish has more employees and certainly more resources than the average US small business.)

Comments mostly seemed to center around the financial aspects of running a parish, and the importance of the parish finance council in providing the business acumen to run a parish. I don't necessarily see the necessity of priests having huge amounts of financial training (as people pointed out, that's what the finance council is for) but there's another side to business skills which it seems like would be a huge help in running a parish: team building and people management skills. Now, I'm not clear how often MBA or other business education programs do a good job of imparting these. Many MBAs are not very good businessmen (just as many literature PhDs don't actually have much of an artistic sense.)

Wherever you get it, though, there's a set of lessons and skills that are very important in running an organization. Some should be obvious: don't criticize all the time, don't play favorites, don't tell different stories to different people, etc. Other fine points of getting people to work well together take more thought to pick up -- or some teaching from a more experienced practitioner.

There's often an expectation that it shouldn't take much management skill to lead a ministry, since everyone is united in their desire to do the will of God. In my experience, though, ministries (and parish organizations) can be the scene of some of the most bitter politicing around -- putting most watercooler back-biting to shame. I think some of this stems from people feeling like all is justified in order to achieve good ends. Some of it is also from a curious misconception, that since people within the parish are "family" that they don't need to be treated with the courtesy and detachment that one would treat co-workers with.

People management and creating a positive "corporate culture" is one of the hardest things to figure out, and although I feel that some books I've read have been very helpful, it's not strictly a book-learning kind of thing. But if there's a way to incorporate some lessons in such things into the practical side of seminary training, I'm sure newly ordained priests would find it a huge help.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thinking Globally, Whining Locally

One of the peculiarities of the modern media world is that it's far easier to find a plethora of world-wide information on a hot topic than it is to know what may be going on in regard to the same issue locally. Things that are big or exciting enough to become "news" can be well known world-wide, while things which don't hit a major news outlet's radar can be difficult to find out. (Which is easier for you: know what your US Senator has said lately or know how your city councilman is spending your property taxes?)

Even for those who are passionately interested in a topic, getting good local information is often difficult. Thus, many of us know more about what goes on in the Vatican and what the USCCB has said lately than what our local bishops are doing about particular issues.

With this comes a certain danger, which I often feel myself falling into, of taking all problems you hear about on a national level and read them down to the local level wherever you happen to be. Thus, you often see concerned lay people writing that they would never allow their sons within ten feet of a priest, or saying they'll never give money to a diocesan appear again because it just goes to settlement fees. Yet except for those living in the one or two dozen notorious diocese such as Los Angeles and Boston, it's hard to know what if anything is going wrong in your own diocese -- if anything. There are 194 diocese in the US, and most of them we never hear anything about. In our own case, we seldom hear anything about our diocese other than what comes through the in the diocesan newspaper and what we hear around the parish.

There's not a quick and easy other than a healthy dose of calmness and skepticism before blowing one's top. It's so easy to live in the ether of global and national news without ever coming down to roost locally that I'm not sure it can ever quite be avoided. The area that we know from personal experience is often pretty small, and what we know beyond that is very much filtered through where we hear about it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Well fancy that...

Catholic Exchange has a new site up in beta. Whoever did all the work on that, it must have been a very big project...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ah those beautiful words...

When said by a client: "It looks like we're pretty much ready except for a few minor cosmetic things."

Hopefully back to family life, sleep, blogging and eventually even sanity over the coming days...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's a small world after all...

Through a bit of correspondence, fellow blogger Jennifer F. of Et tu, Jen? and I discovered that we live not only in the same metropolitan area, but in the same town as well. Yesterday we met up for tea, and I'm happy to report that Jennifer is a stunning redhead and a delightful conversationalist who is just as interesting in person as in blog.

Jennifer is currently in RCIA, and her accounts of her transformation from atheist to Catholic are fascinating reading, and thought-provoking for those of us who are cradle Catholics and have always been used to seeing the world from that perspective. If you're not reading her blog, you should be.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Trying to Survive

A few weeks ago we received an appeal from Food for the Poor which included a DVD called Trying to Survive. The girls agitated to watch it, but Darwin and I wanted to see it first to make sure the content wasn't too upsetting for small children. This mailing must have been a big initiative for Food for the Poor -- they even called up to make sure we'd gotten it, and asked that we watch it. (The caller, a woman with a beautiful Caribbean-esque accent, even said a prayer for me over the phone -- it sounds corny but I was genuinely touched and felt oddly vulnerable.)

We hadn't had time to watch the DVD yet, and yesterday the girls decided to go ahead and put it in while I was finishing up a phone call. I was going to protest, but stopped myself -- why should I shield them from the fact that there's poverty in the world and that some children have to live in unimaginable squalor? So I sat with them and watched the short photo-documentary about life in the slums of Cap Haitien. The girls were particularly impressed by a picture of a malnourished young girl sitting quietly in front of a ramshackle doorway, wearing her best dress for a visit to a nurse. They were full of questions about her and her family and her yellow dress.

I realized with a shock of guilt that every time I started to feel moved by the images of heart-breaking poverty, I would deliberately draw back and shut myself off. I've felt stressed of late, and I didn't want the burden of compassion laid on top of all the other weights I've been carrying. Opening up emotionally even once could mean that I would risk weakening the whole defensive structure I'd built up over the past few weeks. And so I resisted responding naturally and with love to a despairing mother holding her starving child because I didn't want to carry her sorrows.

And so I allowed myself to grieve for the sufferings of the slum-dwellers, and perhaps that put a fatal chink in my protective armor, because last night it all came crashing down around me. Was it better that way? I don't know -- I wish I could have held on longer. But if the price of keeping a stiff upper lip is hardening my heart to impenetrability, I don't know if that's what I want anymore.

You can see "Trying to Survive" here.

If you see Bill Gates, kick him for me...

Making cascading style sheets work the way they're supposed to in IE is taking years off my life...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Recentering at the Food Bank

I've been averaging 16hrs a day worth of work the last week, which is why you han't been seeing many posts coming from my keyboard lately... Given the press of work (we're finishing a couple large projects) I very nearly bowed out of a long scheduled volunteer activity I'd signed up for with some business associates: doing a 4hr shift at the Capitol Area Food Bank sorting donations. In the end, though, I felt too guilty about saying "I'm too busy making money to go help the poor" so I went ahead and went.

I'm glad I did. Pulling non-perishables off a conveyer belt and sorting them into boxes by category is actually an amazingly good "break" from working at a computer screen day and night. And goodness knows it doesn't hurt me to go out and do some manual labor for a good cause once in a while.

A few things struck me while boxing all that food. (They told our team when we went off shift that our volunteer group had packaged over 3000lbs of it.)

Generally speaking, canned food is cheap food. But what is it with canned vegetables? I guess they're perfect for something like a food bank, since they don't go bad, but generally frozen or fresh vegetables are the same price or cheaper and much, much better (both better for you and better tasting.)

Given what staples of good, cheap food they are, I was amazed how few people had donated pasta, pasta sauce, rice and refried beans. Along with bread, tortillas and soup bases, you could live off these for long periods of time (and so we did during some early stages of the Darwin household economy...) Maybe canned goods are just what occur to most people when asked to donate food. Plus, the packaging for rice and pasta tends to be less in-destructable than cans. Still, the food is much better, and there's way more nourishment per pound in rice and pasta than in canned goods.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Movie: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Darwin and I weren't really up on the movie scene last Christmas, so we only just got around to seeing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe last night. My reaction: meh.

It was a pretty film, I suppose. The scenery was nice, the costumes were nice, the music was nice. But even during pivotal scenes I didn't find it impossible to glance away from the screen. There wasn't a palpable sense of danger to make me fear for the characters. I call this the "Beaver Syndrome". Every time the beavers came on screen, the tension abruptly dropped, interrupting the flow of the movie. How could I feel that the Witch's hold on Narnia was so over-reaching and vast when Mr. and Mrs. Beaver were shouting at each other across their dam? People don't shout in a police state.

The Christian music on the soundtrack struck me as a poor choice. It sounded like a marketing gimmick and a demographic ploy. It didn't seem serious at all, and it dragged the movie down with it.

It simply wasn't a memorable movie -- I've already forgotten a large portion of it. Meh.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nietzsche Family Circus

Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones, but by contrary extreme positions.

When one has not had a good father, one must create one.

People who have given us their complete confidence believe that they have a right to ours. The inference is false, a gift confers no rights.

I know this has already been around the block a few times, but I still get a kick out of the Nietzsche Family Circus, a generator that matches up random Nietzsche quotations with random Family Circus cartoons. Keep hitting refresh to up the snerk factor.

The Family Circus has never made so much sense.

H/T to Patrick, who finds all the cool stuff.

On the campaign trail

The Diocese of Austin, and my own parish, has certainly grown over the past few years, and funds are sorely needed. And so, the powers that be have created a capital campaign called Our Faith, Our Legacy. The diocese sets a figure for each parish, with 20% of that money coming back to the parish. Once a parish reaches its financial goal as set by the campaign, 80% of the money raised returns to the parish to be used as seems fit. Many parishes have exceeded their goals, and ours seems on target to do the same.

My parish is in the throes of the fundraising -- calling all registered families, visiting to drop off the campaign packet, and then following up to pick up the pledges. The first phase of the parish campaign dealt with the Major donors, and now I'm on the team that's targeting the Advance group of donors -- selected, I assume, based on the envelope offerings. These two groups make up only 10 % of the parish. (After we close them out, the campaign committee will organize phone banks to call the rest of the parishoners and take pledges over the phone.)

The part of these visits that bothers me every time is asking for the money. Through whatever calculations, the diocesan office has decided that the Advance donors (at least in my parish; I don't know how it works elsewhere) should be asked for a five-year pledge of $12,000. Before each visit I pray and steel myself, but I just cannot name this figure with a straight face. I know it's for a worthy cause and that the goal is sacrificial giving. But I choke every time I sit with a prospective donor and say, "The bishop is requesting that you consider a pledge, over five years, of $12,ooo." Sales is not my forte, to be sure. But I think that my main fear is of appearing unreasonable to these people I've just met.

I seriously doubt that the campaign-meisters expect that anyone in this group would actually give this amount. My own speculation is that by being challenged with such a high goal, donors will stretch farther and give more than if presented with a smaller, more realistic amount. And I'm sure that this is a proven strategy -- the campaign is being run by professionals and the diocesan results so far have been phenomenal.

Some volunteers have met with abuse or tirades from those they've contacted, but my own calls have been much more pleasant. Being relatively new to the parish, I'm glad to have a chance to meet new people, and everyone has been welcoming and generous. So for all in the Austin diocese -- be nice to your campaign volunteer! We don't set the target amount, and we don't disclose the amount you do give. Still, it would boost my confidence if someone would make a $12,000 pledge -- at least I wouldn't feel so ridiculous asking for so much.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

You think you know what hard work is?

One of my favorite Monty Python sketches!

"One day you'll realize there's more to life than the theatre...:

The Urge to Create

"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gn 1:31)

The creative mood seizes me in fits and starts, and recently I've been filled with an enthusiams for crocheting and knitting and even a desire to make a quilt. Apparently I'm not the only one who hears the siren call of the sewing machine. From the Wall Street Journal:

Jennifer Culpepper, a hip Washington, D.C., 33-year-old who carries an iPod nano and uses a Mac laptop, has a new gadget on her holiday wish list: a sewing machine.

Ms. Culpepper, who recently learned to make a tote bag and a blouse at a six-week beginner's sewing class, is one of the young adults who are helping the craft of sewing make a comeback. She says she has realized "how creative it is, rather than it being one of those things that old ladies do."

[Stitch Lounge]
A sewing class at the Stitch Lounge in San Francisco

Amid new interest among fashion-obsessed teens, as well as Gen-Xers settling down in their first homes, fabric stores that teach sewing are seeing their classes filling up and adding waiting lists. The renewed interest is also starting to give a boost to the sewing industry, which has struggled to stay afloat over the past few decades. Manufacturers are selling more sewing machines, and pattern companies, which have rolled out products geared to a hipper, more fashion-savvy set, report that those efforts are paying off in bigger sales.

When even the hipsters are uncovering their latent creative urges, you know there's a part of human nature that can't be supressed. Pope John Paul II expressed the wonder of creating in his Letter to Artists:
None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.
We are all called to become "co-creators" with God, starting the the raw material of our own lives.
Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.

It is important to recognize the distinction, but also the connection, between these two aspects of human activity. The distinction is clear. It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art's specific dictates.(2) This is what makes the artist capable of producing objects, but it says nothing as yet of his moral character. We are speaking not of moulding oneself, of forming one's own personality, but simply of actualizing one's productive capacities, giving aesthetic form to ideas conceived in the mind.

The distinction between the moral and artistic aspects is fundamental, but no less important is the connection between them. Each conditions the other in a profound way. In producing a work, artists express themselves to the point where their work becomes a unique disclosure of their own being, of what they are and of how they are what they are. And there are endless examples of this in human history. In shaping a masterpiece, the artist not only summons his work into being, but also in some way reveals his own personality by means of it. For him art offers both a new dimension and an exceptional mode of expression for his spiritual growth. Through his works, the artist speaks to others and communicates with them. The history of art, therefore, is not only a story of works produced but also a story of men and women. Works of art speak of their authors; they enable us to know their inner life, and they reveal the original contribution which artists offer to the history of culture.
I think one of the reasons that artisans have traditionally enjoyed such respect is that everyone, on some level, can understand the desire to stand back and gaze at something he has created and say, with God, "This is good.

So if you're feeling the urge to do something creative yourself, my friend Bronwyn notes that November is National Novel Writing Month, during which aspiring writers attempt to write a 50,000 word novel over the course of 30 days. Sounds fun, no? She tells you how to watch her progress and cheer her along.

Go create something already!

Kerry Stuck in Iraq

Been insanely busy here lately, but luckily not busy enough to miss this item:

Appearing in Pasadena on behalf of California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, Kerry quipped to a crowd of students: "You know, education - if you make the most of it - you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

That's right. Watch out kids, and don't go into the army, or a US senator will blame you for being un-educated... Sheesh.

I'm waiting to hear the explanation: "Actually, I respect our troops. I respected them before I insulted them."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Madness

It's times like this I wish we had a digital camera....

We've been running around all day getting the girls' costumes together. Halloween costumes fall into the same catagory as Christmas presents for me: I'm always thinking of original and imaginative stuff to give people, but I don't often get around to buying it, and when I do it's always last minute. Fortunately I received from separate sources a small nun costume and some little medical scrubs. So now Babs will be St. Therese and Noogs is a doctor (and since we're hitting the Knights of Columbus All Saints party later tonight, she's St. Gianna Molla and will carry around a baby doll.) Baby will just be a baby. And she'll like it.

I spent a hour this afternoon wiring a crown of roses for Babs, and her feminine soul is in raptures. Noogs is pleased by the shower cap that's doubling as a surgeon's hairnet. I'm going to make her a doctor's name tag that says "St. Gianna Molla, MD". We're angling for the "Best Costume" prize.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Click

Brick: This click that I get in my head that makes me peaceful.... It's just a mechanical thing, something like a -- like a --- like a ---
Big Daddy: Like a --
Brick: Switch clicking off in my head, turning the hot light off and the cool night on, and (he looks up, smiling sadly) -- all of a sudden there's -- peace!

--Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The click has been heard in our house. Babs, who until a week ago was wearing diapers more than half the time, suddenly clicked and started using the toilet all the time and even stays dry at night. She only had her first accident the other night -- in our bed, of course.

Two down, one to go...

Friday, October 27, 2006

So you think you're all that?

Check this out -- today I got a call from Laura Bush herself, urging me to vote in the upcoming election! Hoo boy, I'm running with the big dogs now!

And just a few weeks ago, I received a call from Governor Perry's office, asking for my vote. Everyone wants me, it seems. You may talk to your mom or your kids on the phone, but I hobnob with recordings of the First Lady.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Guns Part II: You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid

In my more general post about the 2nd Ammendment and an armed citizenry, I linked briefly to a Harvard Magazine article by Craig Lambert describing the work of Dr. David Hemenway, author of Private Guns, Public Health. Hemenway is one of the more noteable proponants of the current view that we have an 'epidemic' of gun violence in our society. And as a public health advocate, he wants it stopped. As such he, like many Americans, is little interest in questions about the constitution and militias, rather he simply wants to know: is the availability of gun in America causing an increased risk of gun injury, and if so, what can be done to reduce that incidence.

This is a pretty common theme among gun control advocates. "Sure", the argument goes, "it may be that in the unlikely event that someone breaks into your house, you'll be able to protect your family with a gun. But it's much more likely that a member of your family will kill or injure himself with the gun by accident."

Well, one of the things I do for a living is data, and one of the reasons I put so much work into making a living is that I have three small, beautiful children at home. So while I like my guns (all four of them...) I love my kids. And it seemed worth digging into the standard questions and data on this issues to see what is really going on.

Luckily, we live in the a country with lots of great public information available over the internet. So you and I are perfectly free to go trawl the Center For Disease Control data about causes of death and injury throughout the country each year. (Last year of data available, 2003.) I'll first look at the major complaints about gun accidents put forward by gun control advocates, and then look at the hard data dealing with the topic.

The biggest fear, for parents especially, is of children finding guns and hurting themselves by accident (or while playing with the gun). The American Academy of Pediatrics has this to say:

Q) How can I keep my child safe from gun injury?

A) The safest thing for your child is not to have a gun in your home, especially not a handgun.
And Lambert's Harvard Magazine article has this to say:

Many times a teenaged boy will find a gun such as a semi-automatic pistol in his home and, after taking out the ammunition clip, assume that the gun is unloaded. He then points the pistol at his best friend and playfully pulls the trigger, killing the other lad with the bullet that was already in the chamber. "People say, 'Teach kids not to pull the trigger,' but kids will do it," Hemenway says. In a 2001 study, for example, small groups of boys from 8 to 12 years old spent 15 minutes in a room where a handgun was hidden in a drawer. More than two-thirds discovered the gun, more than half the groups handled it, and in more than a third of the groups someone pulled the trigger—despite the fact that more than 90 percent of the boys in the latter groups had received gun-safety instruction.

Hence product redesign may do more good than safety education. Hemenway suggests such changes as adding "a magazine safety, so that when you remove the clip, the gun does not work. Or make guns that visually indicate if they are loaded—just like you can tell if there is film in a camera."

(You can read the study that he mentions here.) Well, there a couple things to note here. A number of guns already have the safety features that Hemenway mentions here. Also, I kind of wonder how realistic a test this was. I mean, 8-12 year olds may be inexperienced and exuberant, but they're not idiots. If they're set loose in a room as part of a study (even though they don't know what they study is of) many of them would probably assume that any gun they find in the room is either a fake or unloaded. It's not quite the same as finding your dad's .45 in his sock drawer and horsing around with it.

It's certainly true that a number of people die in the US each year as a result of gunshot wounds. From the Harvard Magazine article:

Gun deaths fall into three categories: homicides, suicides, and accidental killings. In 2001, about 30,000 people died from gunfire in the United States. Set this against the 43,000 annual deaths from motor-vehicle accidents to recognize what startling carnage comes out of a barrel. The comparison is especially telling because cars "are a way of life," as Hemenway explains. "People use cars all day, every day—and 'motor vehicles' include trucks. How many of us use guns?"

Suicides accounted for about 58 percent of gun fatalities, or 17,000 to 18,000 deaths, in 2001; another 11,000 deaths, or 37 percent, were homicides, and the remaining 800 to 900 gun deaths were accidental.
The first thing that jumps out at you is that the US primarily has a suicide and homicide problem. The number of actual accidental deaths is tiny.

Now, Lambert acknowledges this in the Harvard Magazine article, however he argues (as apparently does Hemenway in his book) that without guns available, people who contemplate suicide are less likely to be successful, and people who commit crimes (if they're not carrying a gun as opposed to if they are) are less likely to injure or kill their victims.

Here, I suppose, you run into a question of how one thinks about the world. The purpose of a gun is to hurl a small but very dense projectile very, very fast -- thus punching a hole in whatever it hits. This means that if you use one to commit suicide, you're likely to be successful. Now, I'm in no sense in favor of suicide. I believe it to be a grave moral sin, which by its nature drastically reduces one's chances of having time to repent and seek forgiveness before death. But while I believe people shouldn't commit suicide, I'm not sure that denying them effective tools for doing so is the right way of dealing with the problem. (I'm not saying it wouldn't be effective, I'm just not sure that it's the right thing to do.)

Similarly, I'll admit that it's true that if one could somehow make guns very, very scarce, that fewer people would be killed by gun wielding criminals. While it's true that determined criminals (say, bank robbers or hard core gang members) will be able to get guns no matter what, more casual criminals would probably forgo guns in a less gun saturated society. However, I have a tempermental preference for a world in which, even if criminals can get hold of guns, I can have them as well, than one in which I'm definately not going to be armed, and many (though not all) criminals still are. (And I'm not even the sort of gun owner who keeps guns loaded and ready to hand. It would take me a good minute or two to go upstairs, unlock my handgun case, slap the magazine into place, and work the slide.)

Yet these considerations aside, we still have the 800-900 accidents that take place very year. Are these indeed mostly cases of boys pointed automatics at their best friends, thinking they are unloaded?

Well, with the help of the CDC's website, I pulled the data for 2003, the last year available, and I bucketized the data by age range.

AgeAccidental Gun DeathsTotal PopulationRate

That's a total of 127 accidental deaths. For comparison, I pulled accidental deaths by drowning for the same period and the same age ranges. (I thought drowning was a good comparison, as opposed to car accidents, since people are in cars every day, while swimming is an occasional recreational activity which many children are not accustomed to doing safely.)

AgeDeaths by DrowningTotal PopulationRate

That's 910 deaths by drowning in the same period: more than seven times as many.

So where does the famously large number of child gun deaths come from? Well, first of all, a lot of gun control advocates (including the APA in the page linked to above) use statistics that include homicide and suicide as well as accidents, and they include ages 1-19 instead of 1-18, since 19-year-olds have a staggering number of homicide deaths and suicides compared to real children. Sticking with the same buckets and time period as before, here are the stats of murder and suicide.

AgeGun SuicidesTotal PopulationRate

AgeGun HomicidesTotal PopulationRate

Now, I don't for a moment mean by any of this that gun safety is not important. Gun safety is incredibly important, because guns are incredibly dangerous when misused. But this data seems to suggest very strongly to me that Americans actually do a very good job of keeping small children from harming themselves with guns. Without question, guns should be stored safely, and children should be taught how to handle them safely (and what they can do to something which is shot). But it does appear that this kind of training can and does work to prevent accidental gun deaths the vast, vast majority of the time.

The danger area with guns is when teenagers get old enough to get hold of them and decide to use them in crime to to kill themselves. That's a major societal and legal problem. But it's not a gun safety problem.