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

Friday, April 28, 2006

Choosing Hell

Quite some time back, Pontifications ran a post about the theory of "fundamental option", which is seems is the theological term for the idea that one's salvation is based upon a fundamental choice that one makes either for or against God.

This image for the determination of one's salvation has a certain utility in that is simple and evocative. C. S. Lewis uses it in The Last Battle, where all of Narnia's creatures face Aslan and swerve either to his right (with loving expressions) or to his left (with hate in their eyes). And yet, like any image or illustration, applying it absolutely leads to distortion. The 'encounter God and choose' image helps to emphasize that God's judgment is not some arbitrary judgment imposed upon us. It also helps to explain how someone externally appearing to have sinned many times might be saved, while someone who to all appearances led a virtuous life, yet held pride in his heart, might reject God and be condemned. And yet, taken as an absolute of 'salvation by choice alone' the theory of 'fundamental option' becomes just as much a heresy as 'salvation by faith alone'.

John Paul II said as much in Veritas Splendor:
To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in manÂ’s acting and in each of his deliberate decisions.
It is keeping this integrity between the human agent's identity, will and action that is the difficult balance for most of us, I think. Our culture is tends to think of each choice as a totally free activity. Thus, the idea of experiencing for an instant the clarity of the Beatific Vision and in that instant choosing for or against God seems like an isolated decision point, unencumbered by past decisions. Indeed, some use this view to support the claim that perhaps all will be saved, because no one (when truly seeing God for what He is) would reject Him.

And yet, classic Christian moral theology does not support this view of total personal freedom. Virtue is often described as 'the habit of doing good' while attachment to sin is that moral habit which, once one has sinned, makes it hard to make the right choice in the future. Thus, the first time you lie in order to get out of a difficult situation, you struggle to make it come out convincingly and fear for days that your lie will be found out. But with each transgression the lie comes more naturally, until it becomes nearly impossible to tell the truth in a difficult situation -- the convenient lie comes out without even thinking.

It is because we are changed as moral agents by our past choices that ourfundamentall choice for or against God at the particularjudgmentt cannot be divorced from the moral decisions we have made throughout our lives. Each time we sin or resist sin, make it harder of easier to make that decision at the moment of personaljudgmentt.

Perhaps, as in so many other things, the analogy of marriage is useful. One can, as a moral agent, choose at any given point in one's marriage to do something that is good for or bad for one's spouse. And yet, a given man with a given history can make it harder or easier to treat his wife well by building a history of good or bad behavior. While, in theory, a man who has lied and mistreated and been unfaithful to his wife can still, at any given decision point, choose to treat her well, he has vastly decreased both his ability to treat his wife well, and also his knowledge of what his wife truly wants, and thus his ability to treat her well even if he wants to.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

What's in your fridge?

This is a picture of the GE Monogram Bottom-Freezer Refrigerator. Pretty, no? GE just introduced a 41-cubic-foot refrigerator, price: $31,999.

I was reading an article today about the trend of having larger and larger refrigerators in home kitchens, and I wondered, "What do people keep in those things?" Here at the Darwin household our fridge usually looks a little bare because other than dairy or fresh vegetables or leftovers, we don't normally have a huge amount of food that requires refrigeration. Someone bringing me a meal after baby was born commented, "This is the fullest I've ever seen your fridge!"

Is your fridge full? What's in it? Does anyone actually keep their refrigerator as neat as the one in the picture here? What are we missing out on here?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Shocking True Story!!!

Scott Carson tips us all off to the amazing expose performed for us by NPR. It seems that people are only just now realizing that there is evidence that has been sitting around in plain sight nearly two millennia that women were on a totally equal footing with men during the first three centuries of the Church's existence. The Vatican is still trying to keep the lid on this, but forward-looking Catholics know that this silence won't last forever. People are just so much smarter and nicer than they were in 1800 or 1500 or 1200 or 800 or indeed any time since the early, feminist-friendly age of the Church.

Don't doubt your senses, ladies and gentlemen. NPR has provided us with photographic evidence. For instance, in this shocking photo which the Vatican doesn't want you to see, but which FutureChurch discovered on their recent pilgrimage, you can see "A mosaic of women who became saints after risking their lives to collect the relics of martyrs, St. Praxedes church, Rome."

Well, I bet you sheep reared on the lies of the male dominated church weren't ready for that one.

And how about this even stereotype defying image of "A mosaic in St. Praxedes church, Rome. Theodora is on the left with a square halo, indicating she was alive when the mosaic was made." I mean, that pretty much says it right there, doesn't it. Take that, you attack dogs of male domination.

Sure, there's the little mis-step of Theodora being a creature of the sixth century rather than the third, when the alleged Golden Age was, but that doesn't discourage this happy pilgrim:

"We would just like to talk to our leaders," said Sister Christine Schenk, co-leader of the pilgrimage, "and tell them of our experience--how we can begin to re-institute that wonderful balanced leadership we had in the first three centuries of both women and men leading the communities."

And luckily, although the male dominated Church was working so hard to squelch the memory of women like Theodora that she's lovingly depicted in mosaics throughout the West and East, we have sources like the Secret History which shed light on her real character -- surely something every feminist could love.

Report from the Baghdad boys

Iowahawk has another update from Abu Musad Al-Zarqawi. As usual, the standard warnings apply:

  1. Do not drink and read
  2. Severe Profanity alert. Be warned, and read at your own risk.
I was able to find a clip that was mostly suitable for a family website, however.

“Abu, as you know, AQI is all about creating a scalable paradigm for enabling global caliphate,” he says. “But lately, I have been concerned that we’ve had some performance leakage in our Total Quality Jihad plan.”

Okay, maybe I don’t have a fancy ass Master of Martyr Administration from Damascus Tech, but I saw where this $^&t was going.

“Well, Ayman, sure, we’ve had a couple of tough quarters, but if you look at these clippings from the infidel press and TV, you can see we are still in a net positive PR situation, and... “

“How many associates did we lose in Q1?”

*&^k. Since when does he start asking direct questions? I start fumbling around with my folders.

“I’ll tell you Abu. 1,256.” And then he’s off to the races, with a 45 minute firehose of PowerPoints and Excel pie charts detailing every mosque bombing screwup, every wipeout with Team Satan, every stupid Iraqi anti-Al Qaeda protest.

“At the end of the day, Abu, the AQ family needs to deploy our resources for maximum Return-on-Jihad,” he says. Then he drops the bomb: “It’s time we think about right-sizing the organization vis-à-vis the Baghdad Region.”

Oh, dandy. He says we can accomplish it through attrition, but now it looks like I’m going to have to start emailing pink slips AND condolence letters. I’m not even sure how safe my own damn job is. I was gonna call Fatima and my other babies’ mamas and tell ‘em to cancel the family Mecca trip, but that’d just buy me a week of nonstop nagging.

The Thousand Lire Story

Time for more Giovanni Guareschi, from the book My Home, Sweet Home.

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.

I maintained my composure. I took the note from my pocket and handed it to Margherita.

"If you're simple-minded enough to accept such a horror," I said, "you ought to be honest enough to face up to it. Take that thousand-lire note and burn it. Furthermore, it's a crime to circulate counterfeit bills. Look, it's down right here, on the note itself, in this little box. Read it."

"Whoever gave it to me," she said, "ought to take it back."

"Who gave it to you, Margherita?"

"I don't know. I shop all over the neighborhood, anybody might have given it to me."

She went out and was back after a couple of hours, so she must have worked fast. To quarrel with the bakery, the grocery, the drug store, the fruit shop, the butcher, the dry goods store, and the tobacco shop takes a bit of time. However, when Margherita returned she still had the counterfeit thousand-lire note.

The concierge, in matters of this nature, is invaluable. Margherita called her and handed the whole thing over to her.

"If you can get rid of it," Margherita said, "we split."

Two days passed; and then the concierge came back and handed Margherita a perfectly good five-hundred-lire note.

"I had to take it out of the neighborhood," the concierge explained. "Everybody here knows that bill by heart. Now let it go where it will."

Then one day the concierge came running up.

"It's come back!" she cried. "An old woman tried to pass it to the grocer!"

In the following days, the wretched thing was seen by the druggist, the butcher, the fruit seller, and the stationer, and the general apprehension increased. Then it wasn't mentioned any more-quite simply because Margherita had it in her purse.

When we found it, we looked at it in horror-which I cut short: I took the infamous note and was about to feed it to the stove. But Margherita grabbed it from me.

"It's a matter of principle," she said. "I took it, I have to get rid of it."

The days that followed were sad ones for all the family. Margherita ventured into far-distant neighborhoods and returned every night dead tired. At last she had to give up. She called the concierge and once more entrusted the note to her, under the same conditions as before.

The neighborhood resumed its state of siege, for the concierge went into action at once, unleashing all the housemaids who came to see her. Then there was peace.

She reappeared after a week and handed to Margherita a glorious five-hundred-lire note.

"I got away with it," she said. "But I had to go all the way to Baggio. Now that it's out in the suburbs, we can all relax."

Margherita, who has her own conception of arithmetic, was particularly content that evening.

"Giovannino," she said, "we're even now. I got five hundred lire the first time, and five hundred lire the second time. A thousand lire went out and a thousand lire came back."

I made no objection to this statement but I went to bed in a guilty frame of mind. At one in the morning, Margherita woke with a start.

"Giovannino!" she cried. "If I get that counterfeit bill back and make the same deal with the concierge, I'll make a profit of five hundred lire."

"Don't think about it," I said.

Four weeks passed. Then one evening I heard a shriek and I ran to the kitchen. There was Margherita, staring wide-eyed into a cabinet drawer. Inside it was the counterfeit thousand-lire note.

This time I didn't hesitate. I picked up the note and took it over to the gas stove. Margherita made no objection. But before the bill touched the flame, the gas went out.

At this, a terrible moan came from Margherita, and she sank into a chair.

Of course it was chance. A reasonable man would laugh and light a match and touch it to the bill. But I did not. I put the thousand lire note back in the drawer. Every once in a while Margherita and I would peek in, and there it was always, evil and obstinate, and so false you could tell it even with the drawer shut.

One day I told the story to a friend of mine who works in a bank, and he said he'd like to see the note. We took it to him.

Margherita shuddered as she saw the ease with which he handled the bill, and felt it, and held it to the light.

"There are defects in the printing," he said finally, "but the bill is not counterfeit."

He put it with some others and gave us two five hundred lire notes.

In the street, Margherita paused and said: "Giovannino, I got five hundred lire from the concierge the first time, and I got five hundred the second time, and just now we got a thousand. That makes two thousand lire. We've made a thousand lire clear! Is it possible?"

"Anything is possible," I said, `but if you ask me, we have paid the wages of sin."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Keeping House

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article today about marketing cleaning supplies in Italy. (I'd link to it, but you have to subscribe to their online edition to access it.) Here are some stats:

* Italian women spend an average of 21 hours a week on household chores (other than cooking). American woman, by comparison, spend only a fifth that much time cleaning.
* Italian women wash kitchen and bathroom floors at least four times a week. American women wash them once a week. (I'm way behind by either standard.)
* Italian women iron nearly all their wash, even down to socks and underwear. Sheesh!
* 80% of Italians iron all their laundry
* 31% have dishwashers
* 1% have dryers

Perhaps if you don't have a dryer you have less clothing to take care of, so then you have more time to do all that ironing? I wonder if the sport of extreme ironing has taken off there in Italy.

Now, my house isn't filthy, but I really don't put in that much time cleaning -- I don't enjoy it much, to tell the truth. I guess that all told, I hit the four-hour average for American women, but I never think to dust, vacuuming is sporadic (especially upstairs because I have to lug my heavy vacuum up when I want to clean), and the kitchen floor is mopped infrequently. The laundry gets done (with the benefit of a dryer, I might add) but even if it gets folded it's not always put away. Some of this is due to my disinclination for the tasks, but a lot of it also has to do with the fact that whenever I dedicate myself to some job, I invariably hear crashes or squeals and find a disaster in progress.

My kids are climbers -- I find myself saying, "Get down! Get down!" so often I sound like a scratched disco record. But maybe climbing is the way the high shelves are going to get dusted, at least for now.

The other piece of note in the Journal is a review of a book called "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife". It's written by Caitlin Flanagan, a woman who stays at home -- not exactly stays at home with her kids, because she has a nanny, a maid, and a gardener -- and writes for the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker about the Mommy Wars and the aftermath of feminism. The review assures us that she is indeed a charming, talented writer. Good for her. Less good is her own mothering style, which involves calling the nanny when things get sticky:
"Paloma, Patrick is throwing up!" I would tell her, and she would literally run to his room, clean the sheets, change his pajamas, spread a clean towel on his pillow feed him ice chips, sing to him. I would stand in the doorway, concerned, making funny faces at Patrick to cheer him up -- the way my father did when I was sick and my mother was taking care of me.
Well, all right. I may only clean my house four hours a week, but when anyone in my house is sick, I'm there. And I don't think that a working mother who, after putting in a full day's work, picking up the kids, getting dinner, and packing everyone off to bed, has just put up her aching feet and sat down with Ms. Flanagan's book would feel at all charmed by an elegant turn of phrase here or a witty epigram there from a woman who won't even take care of her sick child in the middle of the night. I don't have to learn to love my inner housewife because being a housewife is simply what I do -- it's my full-time job, thank you very much. I may not be the world's most proficient cleaning lady, but when it comes to taking care of my family when they need me, I wrote the book.

Damned by da Vinci?

John Farrell has a post up about the fuss about The Da Vinci Code:

Having read the novel, my own feeling is, if your faith is such a wisp o' nothing that it gets blown out by an overwrought melodrama (based on sham research), you probably didn't have much faith in the Church to begin with. Maybe the Church should be taking advantage of natural selection here, if I may borrow a metaphor, and be grateful for the opportunity to prune the congregation of its intellectually weaker elements.

They're getting older

My grandmother used to warn me every so often about the third columnist priests that the communists snuck into the seminaries during the '20s. They were responsible, she was sure, for many of the problems in the Church, and any day now they might try to take over the whole thing.

It's not that I doubted that communists might have tried to infiltrate seminaries during the '20s, or that (assuming that happened) that wouldn't have done real harm. But the thing that struck me in hearing this in the '90s was: That was seventy years ago. If they snuck in during the '20s, they're dead or retired.

It's certainly not seventy years yet since the silliness of the '60s and '70s, but it's getting to have been quite a while. We were visiting with friends for brunch on Easter Sunday, and as we were talking about the occasional flare-ups of bad Easter liturgy, I was reminded of The Egg Sermon.

The Egg Sermon is a not-so-fond memory of my days as an altar boy (circa 1988 to 1995). Just after I became an altar boy, we got a new associate pastor in our parish, Fr. Tom. Fr. Tom was what seemed in the mid to late eighties a very typical 'young priest'. (Given a seven year preparation process, 'John Paul II priests' weren't hitting the streets yet.) Fr. Tom was not, like his forebears in the 70s, a radical of any particular sort. He was just very, very nice, and not (or at least not willing to appear) terribly deep. Fr. Tom's sermon's tended to be aimed at the children in the congregation under age 7, and they usually involved a prop or puppet. (This was tricky, because it meant that at masses for the parish school -- at which he was invariably the celebrant -- the intended audience for the sermon was kindergarten age or below, and the rest of us tended to feel silly.)

One way or another, every altar boy ended up serving pretty much every day out of the triduum, so three years running I ended up serving Fr. Tom's Easter mass, and each time he gave the same sermon. The sermon was based around his Easter basket, and the question: Are you a good egg? Some of us, he explained, are hard boiled. (Out comes a hard boiled egg.) We're hardened, we don't care about others, but when bad things happen (he drops the egg on the marble floor of the sanctuary and it cracks) we just crack. Some of us are scrambled (out comes a ziplock full of scrambled eggs). We're just all mixed up. (He pours the scrambled eggs out on the floor.) Others look really good on the outside (a hollow chocolate egg) but on the inside (he crumbles the hollow egg in his hand) we're hollow.

It went on like this for a while, with more explanation on each egg, and then when Fr. Tom returned to his chair, a couple of us had to come forward with a whisk broom, dustpan and paper towels to clean up all the mess. (You can see why by the third year, this got old.)

As I was telling this altar boy horror story, I found myself saying by way of introduction "Fr. Tom was your typical young priest". And then I realized, that's no longer the case. Fr. Tom was ordained twenty years ago. And as opposed to being a 'typical young priest' he must now be in his early fifties.

Odd to think of...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blogging Around

As you may have noticed, I've been leaving a lot of the posting to MrsDarwin lately, because work has been more than usually pressing, and I'm looking at another outside project or two. However, over the weekend I finally got the chance to catch up on some favorite blogs and so thought I'd throw up links to some interesting recent posts.

Fr. Martin Fox provides another glimpse at daily life in the priesthood with a description of how Divine Mercy Sunday went at St. Boniface Parish.

Scott Carson writes about the error of Primitivism, and why some always imagine the latest discovery (such as the 'Gospel of Judas') will "change everything" while orthodox Christians know it can't and won't.

Michael Liccione asks himself, Is Benedict XVI nasy enough?

And Usceae offers thoughts on an attempt to categorize world cultures based upon quadrants of cultural survival vs. self expression and traditionalism vs. secularism. The graph itself is interesting, but I think Usceae correctly points out a couple problems with it's assumptions.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Save the date

My booking agent, Rick Lugari, has scheduled me to speak about a topic on which I apparently have much to say:

Let's hope I didn't hotlink that one, Rick!

He also sent me a copy of a book that more than one of you might also appreciate:

So I hope this qualifies me to be a charter member of the B-Team and hang out with the cool kids:

Friday, April 21, 2006

A sign from God

Via the Church Sign Generator.

Glories of the Heavens

One of the things about the internet is that it sometimes gives you the ability to look up someone you haven't heard of in a long while.

Recently, I got to wondering what Fr. Royer was up to these days. Fr. Ronald Royer (indeed, Msgr. Royer now, I find) was known to both my parents in different capacities. He was an associate pastor at St. Francis of Rome parish in Azusa California back in the 70s, which was my mom's family's parish. He was also a well known amateur astrophotographer, whom my father once had out to Santa Monica College to give a guest lecture about taking photographs of celestial objects.

The Orange County Astronomers offer a brief bio of Msgr. Royer on their site. Msgr. Royer was ordained in 1958, a graduate of St. Johns Seminary in Los Angeles. He was pastor of St. Pancratius parish in Lakewood from 1983 to 2002, when he retired. (He was made a Monsignior in 1992.) He now lives with his mother in Springville, CA where he has moved his observatory, and helps out at the local parish.

You can see a lot of Msgr. Royer's astrophotography here, in the Science Photo Library, which is where the above photo of part of the Milky Way is from.

The Couple's Realm

Everyone knows that there are certain houses that just make you feel comfortable and at home the moment you enter them. Much of that has to do with patterns -- configurations of lighting and architecture and materials that just feel "right". The landmark texts for dealing with these patterns of architecture are Christopher Alexander's The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language. These excellent books are must-reads for anyone who has ever wondered what they can do to make a sterile building into a welcoming, livable home, or anyone who wants to build their own house, or anyone who's interested in the language of design.

I just bought a copy of A Pattern Language used on Amazon (but that's another story entirely), and while flipping through it, came across this pattern: A Couple's Realm
The presence of small children in a family often destroys the closeness and the special privacy which a man and wife need together.

Every couple start out sharing each other's adult lives. When children come, concern for parenthood often overwhelms the private sharing, and everything becomes exclusively oriented toward the children.

In most houses, this is aggravated by the physical design of the environment. ...The result is that the private life of the couple is continually interrupted by the awareness that the children are nearby. Their role as parents rather than as a couple permeates all aspects of their private relations.

On the other hand, of course, they do not want to be completely separated from the children's rooms. They also want to be close to them, especially while the children are young. A mother wants to run quickly to the bed of an infant in an emergency.

These problems can only be solved if there is a part of the house, which we call the couple's realm; that is, a world in which the intimacy of the man and woman, their joys and sorrows, can be shared and lived through. it is a place not only insulated from the children's world, but also complete in itself, a world, a domain.

...The couple's realm needs to be the kind of place that one might sit in and talk privately, perhaps with its own entrance to the outdoors, to a balcony. It is a sitting room, a place for privacy, a place for projects; the bed is part of it, but tucked away into an alcove with its own window; a fireplace is wonderful; and it needs some kind of a double door, an ante-room, to protect its privacy.

Make a special part of the house distinct from the common areas and all the children's rooms, where the man and woman of the house can be together in private. Give this place a quick path to the children's rooms, but, at all costs, make it a distinctly separate realm.
Oh, how I long for a couple's realm! The girls have taken over every area of the house, even our bedroom. Their toys and clothes are on our floor, and the baby's cradle and changing table and dresser are in our room. Perhaps we haven't trained them well, but the girls think nothing of barging into our room and jumping on the bed or playing in our bathroom or generally making our room a staging ground for part of their daily romp.

We do have part of this pattern: the master bedroom is very slightly separated from the two other bedrooms, which are right next to each other across the stairwell. The master bedroom is large, and is broken up into two areas, which could be the bed area and the sitting area. And of course we have our own bathroom.

Darwin and I often find that even after the girls go to bed, we need time and space to readjust back to being just Us -- an adjustment not helped by stepping on toys or gazing upon the wreckage of the living room while feeling too tired to clean it up. I'd dearly love to have a space to ourselves, somewhere away from the rest of the world where we can recharge and have a little privacy away from everything else. We're still the same people we were before we became parents; every now and then we talk about how we feel we're still just getting used to being married and having kids. Then we realize: wait a minute, we've been married for almost five years. We've had children for almost four years. But part of the oddness of actually having a family is the feeling of constantly improvising, and that would be far easier to do if we had someplace where we could sit quietly away from the peanut gallery and review our material for our next act.

Oh, yeah

Baby is complaining right now -- here's what she's saying:

Thanks to Julie D. for sending me to

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mary Meets Dolly

I've also been meaning to blogroll Mary Meets Dolly, and I've finally gotten to that.
Mary Meets Dolly is, literally, the meeting of the world of genetics and genetic engineering, represented by Dolly, “mother” of modern biotechnology, and the teachings of the Catholic Church on the sanctity of life, represented by Mary, mother of Christ and the Church. So, while “Mary Meets Dolly” may sound glib, its subject matter is definitely not.

My name is Rebecca Taylor. I am a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology at a Catholic hospital, and more importantly, a practicing Catholic. Recently, I was discussing stem cells and cloning with an older gentleman at a family party. He was very knowledgeable about biotechnology, but was surprised about many little-known and quite misleading facts. He asked where I had gathered those facts, and I told him I was reading every pertinent scientific reference I could get my hands on. He looked me in the eye and said, “Young lady, it is not good enough to read, you must do something!” I found out later he was a former U.S. congressman from California.

Indeed, I began to notice a general lack of understanding about contemporary issues in genetics, genetic engineering, and reproductive technology, issues that have shaped, and will continue to shape, the future of humanity, for good or ill. I work with professionals whose business is medical genetics, and even they are confused about the pragmatics, not to mention the ethics, surrounding cloning, stem cells, and recent advances in genetic engineering. If professionals could be confused, I feared that the average Catholic would feel lost amidst the scientific jargon and, unfortunately, the hype.
Pertinent stuff, and well-written.

A blog to watch

Usceae is a new blog by an anonymous Catholic in an majority Islamic country.

Firstly, I am a Roman Catholic Christian living in a majority non-Christian country (in this case, Islamic). I have, however, previously lived in the UK and the US (several years each), and also spent several months at a time in China, continental Europe, and Thailand, and have travelled to a great many other places (for both work and pleasure). I have a family (a wonderful, God-sent wife, who happens to be Protestant - and whom I thank God every day for) and 2 young children (a girl and a boy).

Secondly, this blog exists because I, at least, believe that we live in a world where there are great challenges everywhere for believers. In countries such as mine, the need to achieve the reality of being good Christians and citizens within the context of an alternative religious framework on the part of the majority. In countries such as I have seen in the elsewhere (e.g. US, UK) the struggle to keep the faith within a secular (sometimes aggressively so) environment, with a constant siren song of materialism. In my opinion, there is some value in discussing these issues, and highlighting, on a regular basis, events occuring at the major cultural and religious interfaces in today's world.
Welcome, Usceae! We've added you to the blogroll -- the surest way to make sure that we read you often.

(h/t Amateur Catholic)

Reading in 100 Easy Lessons: Lesson 63

We're trucking through the 100 Easy Lessons, and Noogs is picking up some steam. By lesson 63 you're reading short stories like "The Rich Pig":
A dog was in the park. He met a pig. The dog said, "Pigs do not live in parks. Pigs live on farms.
The pig said, "Not this pig. I am a rich pig. I live on a ship."
The dog said, "Take me to this ship."
So the pig and the dog went to the ship. But the waves made the ship rock. And the dog got sick.
The end.
We don't follow the lessons word-for-word anymore, because I know by now what does and doesn't work for Noogs. She's getting very good at sounding out words, and is reading more and more words when we go out. ("Look, Mommy! "Target!")

A friend lent us her Bob books (recommended by several readers here) and Noogs has been enjoying those. Unfortunately the first set wasn't included, but I find that by now we can go straight to the second and third sets. I like mixing these reading programs because that way she learns sounds that aren't introduced in the 100 Lessons until later (such as the y sound in "happy" or the "ou" in mouse).

All in all, I feel like reading is going quite well. Noogs can sit now and read her simple books to herself or Babs, and that gives her a lot of confidence. Babs is singing her alphabet these days, with Noogs's help. Ah, sisterly aid!

Anyone know anything about Seton's new phonics book for kindergartners? I had a look through them at a friend's house, and they seem a lot like the old Modern Curriculum Press books that my younger siblings used. I think Noogs would benefit from a workbook for writing -- she doesn't show much interest in simply writing a row of letters as the 100 Easy Lessons would have her do. The Seton books look fun for a youngster, and have some illustrations by the man who illustrated Angel in the Waters.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ironies of History

Readers may recall (perhaps with ennui) that I've been working on restoring a German K98 Mauser battle rifle from WW2. Some 12 million K98s were made during the war, and after Germany's defeat they were literally scattered across Europe.

A number of GIs smuggled them home in their duffle bags as trophies, and these 'GI Bring Backs' fetch some of the highest prices from collectors today. The US and Britain destroyed millions of them, recycling the metal and taking weapons they didn't want getting into the wrong hands off the market. The Soviets and various Eastern Bloc countries cleaned up and stored several million -- just in case they needed to send millions of men armed with bolt-action rifles charging across the steppes of Europe against Americans armed with tanks and atomic weapons. Hundreds of thousands of the K98s ended up on the international arms market, both legal and illegal, and found their way into the hands of just about any group buying arms in the late 1940s.

One such group was the nascent Israeli Defense Force, then a network of paramilitary organizations dedicated to defending the growing Jewish settlements in Palestine from the political and military chaos of the region. These groups bought thousands of K98s, which became the primary battle rifle used in the fighting leading up to and following the creation of the state of Israel. The IDF chose the K98 as its primary battle rifle, and had thousands more made by the FN company in Belgium. However, there were a total of about 100,000 Nazi-made K98s which were rearsenaled by Israel and stamped with Hebrew letter identifications and the Star of David. In a few cases, the Star of David was stamped right over the Nazi markings on the receiver.

Israel later adopted the semi-automatic FAL rifle in NATO .308, but the reserves continued to carry the K98 (those still in use were modified to use the NATO .308 round instead of the German 8mm Mauser) into the '70s and it saw action in a number of the wars Israel has fought.

Surely not something that the German makers of the rifle intended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The 1965 Missal

Last night when I was up late working, I also couldn't help distracting myself from work occasionally, and came across this post about the 1965 'mass of Vatican II' which was the original (and at the time expected to be the only) revision of the Tridentine Mass based upon the recommendations of the Council.

The 1965 missal was a much lesser departure from the 1962 missal (which is what is generally celebrated both under the indult) and perhaps in many ways fit the bill for a gradual, organic reform that brought the mass back into line with its historical and theological purpose.

The readings were said in the vernacular, while the ordinary of the mass remained in Latin. A few accreted prayers and gestures were removed from the Tridentine missal. But generally, it sounds like the 1965 order of the mass was very close to its immediate predecessor.

You can read a defense of the changes from the 1962 to the 1965 missal here.

And a description of the 1965 order of the mass here.

The text is here.

I can't say I wish I was alive in the 60's, but this sounds like the sort of reform that many of us on the more conservative end of the spectrum would have been quite satisfied with. Sadly, that is water under the bridge at this point.

What's wrong with this paragraph?

Here's a little tidbit from an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about a push for new restrictions on driving while using a cellphone.
In the accident, the 20-year-old driver fell asleep while talking on the phone, crossed three lanes of traffic and hit a car driven by a 55-year-old woman, who later died. Authorities lodged what they thought was Michigan's first cellphone-related negligent-homicide charge. Later, they added drug charges, after a medical exam allegedly turned up illegal drugs in the driver's system.
Tell me again how the cellphone was the problem in this incident?

Free Speech

Rich Leonardi of Ten Reasons links to a good editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer about a 'free speech' incident an Northern Kentucky University.

It seems that Sally Jacobsen, a tenured professor in the Literature & Languages department at NKU, led 9-12 of her students from a BritLit class to a grassy area near the university center where Right to Life (an approved student organization) had erected 400 crosses representing a cemetery for the unborn (a symbolic display which they had received university permission to erect). There Jacobsen encouraged them to tear all the crosses apart. She would not reveal whether she herself had participated in the destruction, but said she had encouraged the students to destroy the display, which she said was outrageous and offensive.

The editorial asks pertinently:
She said she was offended by the display. So what? Does she think she has the right to obliterate someone else's expression just because it offends her? Would she deface a painting she didn't care for? Smash a statue she didn't like? Burn books in the library if she disagreed with them?
Surprisingly, yet gratifyingly, enough, the university apparently agrees. The AP reports:
A Northern Kentucky University professor has been put on leave and will retire at the end of the semester after admitting she told students to destroy an anti-abortion display on campus.

Sally Jacobsen, who is a professor in the literature and language department, will not return to the school. University president James Votruba said what Jacobsen did was outside the scope of her employment.
I'm impressed that president Votruba sees the real free speech issue at stake. If you actually believe in freedom of speech, you believe in letting everyone speak. That means that destroying speech with which you disagree is the most antithetical thing you can possibly do to exercising 'free speech'. This is a point many college activists seem unclear on. At the community college where my father worked, there was an incident several years back where the Black Student Union seized an entire print run of the college newspaper and destroyed it, because they disagreed with an editorial it ran. The college president thanked them for expressing their views and promised to ferret our racism wherever she found it, but in fact, this was not an act of free speech. An act of free speech would be holding a rally against the editorial or publishing an alternative to the newspaper. Destroying the paper is an example of suppressing free speech in favor a set of imposed moral or cultural norms.

Now, maybe part of the problem with is that people have become so enamored of the idea of unlimited free speech that they can't admit that free speech is not actually an absolute ideal for them. This is, after all, the country where Larry Flynt not only won the right to publish unlimited smut in court, but even had a movie made about what a great American he was to have done so.

I am not myself a supporter of unlimited free speech. There are, I think, limits to what it is good for society for people to say and do. However, Prof. Jacobsen does not admit any such qualms about free speech, nor is she operating in an environment that acknowledges such limits.

This Cincinnati Post article has some more good info on the dust up, including some great quotes from Votruba.

And this site offers some photos of the destruction. Judge for yourself whether Prof. Jacobsen has any plausible deniability on whether or not she was involved:

Monday, April 17, 2006

Another Summer, another A/C repair

We are the proud holders of a home warranty that's supposed to fix all problems covered for $50 a repair call. Sounds nice, no? And it sure would be nice if the air conditioner had been fixed for good in the last four visits. But no, as the temperature starts pushing toward 90 degrees, I find that once again the air conditioner does not blow cold. Never fear, however -- Darwin is making the call this time, and he'll find a way to by-pass the system and speak to a live operator and make them fix the air conditioner this time.

In the meantime, the windows are open -- but wait! Several of our windows have huge holes in the screen (thanks, cats next door). So the limited air flow in our surburban box is further impeded. New screens are on order and should be coming soon. In the meantime, I have the house fan on and the screened windows open, and there's an approximation of ventilation going on. Let me once more take the opportunity to rail against cheapskate builders of suburban boxes who assume that since there's air conditioning, windows are merely a cosmetic feature (though the builders' idea of beauty is off-kilter, since some sides of our house have only one or two windows in odd places).

But dang, it's hot already!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

He is risen!

A blessed, sunny, joyful Easter to you all! We had several adult baptisms at our parish last night, and I couldn't keep from smiling during them. I can't wait until tiny miss Mops is baptized. I really can't wait until her sisters can behave in church...

We're off to friends for brunch. I send up many prayers for the success of my quiche, if that crust is salvagable. Here's a cooking hint from Mrs. Darwin: when bringing a dish to a meal, don't try out something new. Make something familiar, because then you'll know how it'll turn out.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday Last Year

(Note: This is a post from October, but since it's relevant to the Triduum, I thought I'd re-post it in a slightly touched-up form.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I realized that the cramps were subsiding.

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

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

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


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

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Liturgy & Theatre

The very last thing our liturgy needs, you might think, is a more theatrical sensibility. To those of us who have been treated to the occasional crash-and-burn bad liturgy (complete with 'liturgical dancers' lurching up the aisles in leotards which are an occasion of sin against charity if not modesty) the idea of 'liturgical theatre' brings up instant horror.

And yet, one of the major problems with the weekend tragedians and comedians on the parish liturgy committee is actually a lack of familiarity with dramatic theory. You see, once upon a time the Catholic Mass was admired by dramatic theorists -- not so much because the spectacle of the high mass, but because the rubrics of the mass were such a good example of action mirroring word and meaning.

The key to creating good drama is to craft a sight and sound experience that conveys the essential meaning of the script. When a director sits down to score out a script, he doesn't just think, "What would this look like in real life," but also (and to a great extent, instead) "What actions will convey to the audience what is going on." On stage, important action is usually moved to a focal point, if not the center of the stage, then an area on which the audience's attention is focused via set and lighting design. A character who is exerting greater power within a scene is often given blocking that puts him above the person he exerts power over. If one character is seated while the other stands leaning over him, the image conveys that the person standing is in power. Alternatively, if one character sits in a chair looking relaxed while the other stands stiffly or nervously before him we instinctively know it is the sitting person who is in power. If a character turns her back on another, we know that she is in some sense blocking him or shutting him out. Perhaps she is angry with him, perhaps she is hiding her thoughts and emotions from him.

Director's don't simply make these things up, rather, they tap into the vocabulary of behaviors and gestures that have common meaning for us as a culture. We use these gestures and movements in life every day. The craft of the director is to understand the meaning of gestures that most of us use without even thinking, and to choose actions for his actors which will use this gesture language to convey the script more clearly to the audience.

Good liturgy also uses the language of gesture to convey meaning. We kneel during the consecration because kneeling conveys reverence. We stand while listening to the Gospel because standing is also a sign of respect and attention. (Ask any drill sergeant if he'd get a good reaction making people sit at attention.) We bow before receiving the Eucharist as a sign of reverence. The use of incense, gold vessels and formal robes are all ancient signs of reverence.

Other things, however simply do not draw from our cultural vocabulary of meaning. Liturgical dancers have no meaning in our culture. Sure, some ancient kings may have had dancing girls -- but the meaning there was "this king is so important he could have any one of these beautiful women." Christ isn't that kind of king. (And that kind of king wouldn't want the average liturgical dancer.)

Other symbols that liturgists suggest convey messages, but not messages that mean anything relevant to the mass. Thus, having a group of children sing and 'do motions' for the congregation as 'a meditation' does not cause anyone to meditate. It causes people to think 'how cute' and wish they could reach for their video cameras so they could show Grandma.

Back when we lived in LA Archdiocese, one directive that came out asked that everyone remain standing both before and after receiving communion and then sit down all at once 'to emphasize that we all sit down together at the table of God.' Well, that may have sounded good in a discussion group somewhere, but having everyone stand during the distribution of communion doesn't convey at any deep level 'we're united'. Indeed, what it mostly seemed to convey to people was 'we're waiting', and so they'd chat amongst themselves much more than when kneeling. (This particular innovation died, at least at our parish, within weeks.)

Other things are just plain hard. The sign of peace, for instance. I'm not necessarily one of those people who hates the sign of peace. (It gives my toddlers something they're capable of participating in -- that's a plus right there.) But I think one of the reasons it has had problems in our culture is that there is no standard 'peace be with you' gesture in our culture. Shaking hands says "hi there" or "you've got a deal" or "what buddies we are" but it doesn't say "peace be with you". We're not a culture that gives peace. In some cultures, a kiss on each cheek might convey that. In others, clasping both arms or bowing might convey such a message. But since it's not a sentiment we have a gesture for, the sign of peace often degenerates into a 'hi ya' moment.

Our parish is usually pretty good at avoiding liturgical miss-steps, but there was a mild example of clumsy symbolism tonight. Someone had got the idea of putting the church into Good Friday mode before the Holy Thursday mass. So when we came in the tabernacle was open, the statues were draped in red, the lights were off, etc. When the procession entered, the crucifix the servers carried was also shrouded. Now, I'm sure someone was thinking, "This is such powerful symbolism and says so much on Good Friday, it'll give a great Lenten feel to Holy Thursday if we do the same thing." (Similar thinking most go into taking away the holy water for all of lent rather than just Good Friday and Holy Saturday.)

But no one had thought through what a mixed symbolic message you'd be sending by shrouding Christ during the celebration of the institution of the Eucharist. And leading a Eucharistic procession out of the church at the end of mass while carrying a crucifix with the corpus hidden. If Jesus is right there in the Eucharist, why use all the symbolism that's meant to convey that he's not there?

UPDATE: Fr. Fox points out in the comments (and also mentions in a post on his own blog) that the rubrics in the Sacramentary for Holy Thursday mention the tabernacle being completely empty. I'd never seen this done before, so I assumed it was an innovation, but live-and-learn.

I'm still think shrouding all the statues and crucifixes for Holy Thursday was a slightly misplaced idea, but as we've just seen I'm not an expert. :-) However, I'll have a better explanation at today's 3pm service when my 3-year-old daughter will doubtless ask again: "Why is Jesus hiding under a blanket." Because now it's accurate to say, "We hide Jesus today to remind us that after he died Jesus was hidden in the tomb for three days before he rose from the dead."

To whom shall we go?

Today being Holy Thursday, it seem appropriate to re-read the Bread of Life discourse in John 6:22-71. Jesus makes his message as clear as possible. He starts by saying, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." (v.35) The crowds murmur at this, so Jesus ups the ante by proclaiming, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." (v.51) Once again the crowds debated his meaning, so finally Jesus is explicit: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (vv.53-56)

Jesus lost many of his disciples over these words: "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." (v.66) The twelve remained, even, oddly enough, Judas -- who would later betray Jesus. Why didn't Judas leave at this time? Could he have actually believed that Jesus's flesh was true food and his blood true drink? When Jesus asks why the twelve don't go, Peter tells him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." (vv.68-69) None of the others dispute this, even at at time when it would have been incredibly easy to walk away, which indicates that all the apostles concurred with what Peter said. Judas must have accepted both Jesus's words and Peter's statement.

At the Last Supper, Jesus again proclaims that his flesh and blood are meant to be eaten. "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." (Mt. 26:26-28). This time there are no doubters in the room -- no one grumbles about these being hard words to accept. Judas rushes out, preparing to betray him, but all the rest of the disciples echo Peter's words: "Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you." (Mt. 26:35)

Yet all but one of the disciples did leave Jesus, much as the crowds did in John 6. Despite having just witnessed the first Mass and having given assent and partaken of Jesus's flesh at the Last Supper, there are none who come to his aid, or who can even stay awake at the garden of Gethsemane. Not even the first Eucharist bolstered the courage of the disciples, even though they truly believed.

Jesus knew that his followers would need an extra dose of grace and stamina, because he promiseed them the Holy Spirit after he departs. It's not until after Pentecost that the disciples are willing to lay down their lives for Jesus. Until then, even those who have received the Eucharist do not publicly acknowledge him.

Interesting footnote: John is the only gospel that doesn't mention the institution of the Eucharist during the last supper. Perhaps that's because he had such a strong Eucharistic discourse earlier in chapter 6.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Please enjoy this humorous blogging of a topical nature

Darwin, having once run quality control on tech support calls to an Indian call center, will assuredly appreciate this one: Iowahawk has outsourced his humor column.
Hello, all readers of the humorous Iowahawk blog! Permit me please to introduce myself, I am Shecky Naharajan. In an effort to better serve you, the topical humor customer, and to contain ever-increasing blogging costs, Mister David Burge has retained the services of my firm, Risibility Outsourcing Systems Ltd. of Bangalore. With a staff of over 18,000 skilled japery craftsmen working in modern plants from Delhi to Goa, ROS is the subcontinent's leader in low cost, high productivity zaniness. So let us without further delay begin the current events levity!
Do the needful and read the whole thing.

Home again, home again

This past Friday, my old man turned 50, and my siblings and I gave him the surprise of his life.

About two weeks ago, my sister called me up and said, "If I were to fly you out for Dad's surprise party, would you be able to come?" I'm never one to pass up a free trip to surprise dear old Dad, so we bought tickets right then and there. My sister (who is a marvel of organization -- does anyone need a personal planner?) put together a dinner on Friday night at which all six kids would attend (Dad was only expecting three) and a party on Saturday night which would be attended by close to 70 people. Things were made somewhat easier by the fact that Dad is completely oblivious to preparations being carried out under his nose. Elizabeth cleaned the house, ordered a cake, called my brothers and me to check schedules, and strategized with my two youngest siblings, all without awakening any suspicion.

Friday evening my brothers John and Will drove down from the Pontifical College Josephinum, and we converged at dad's house and snuck in the back door. Then Elizabeth called upstairs, "Dad, there's a visitor here for your birthday!" and carried Isabel upstairs. Dad was absolutely stunned, and when he came downstairs, there we all were to sing Happy Birthday. A delightful dinner followed, with much laughing, singing, and passing around of the baby. (There's always lots of singing with my siblings -- my brothers can play almost any instrument they put their hands on, and my youngest sister is gifted with a Broadway-caliber voice.)

Saturday the real preparations began. People were slated to arrive at 6:45, and we weren't exactly sure how to spring them on Dad. Serendipity happened -- my youngest brother Nathanael left his track bag at the high school that hosted his track meet that morning. so Dad ran him out there to pick it up. While they were away, a crowd converged on the house and set up all the food and decorations, so that when Dad returned everyone was perfectly situated to yell "Surprise!" Once again he was completely caught off-guard. Dad doesn't like to be the center of attention, so he sat red-earred through a little roast we gave him. Many old friends showed up, and I even got to meet long-time commenter Barbfromcincy (Hi, Barb!). Everyone admired the baby (of course) and she was beautifully behaved and even smiled at a few lucky mortals.

Then Sunday I ran into more old friends both at church (there was an excellent sermon, and I was able to listen to the whole thing) and then later on with my mom at a bridal shower for a lovely young girl whom I used to babysit. They grow up so fast... (And to anyone to whom I mentioned that I was going to Stephenie's baby shower, I meant BRIDAL shower. Babies are much on my mind, naturally, and baby shower rolls off my tongue much more easily than bridal shower. But I meant BRIDAL shower, so no one get the wrong idea here.)

It was a wonderful trip, all in all. I've been dying to blog about it for the last two weeks, but I didn't want to ruin the element of surprise since Dad reads the blog (hi, Dad!). I really enjoy going up to Cincinnati -- I love the old place better than it probably deserves. And the houses have character! I suggested to Dad that we trade houses -- he'd get a maintenance-free domicile, and I'd get molding. For some reason he passed on that, but never fear: I took drawings of the molding around the doors and windows, and I'm considering reproducing it here at our house. Then if only I had wood floors and plaster walls and a massive piano that weighs a ton (of which the piano movers said, after much profanity, that we should sell the piano with the house instead of moving it again), I'd think I was back in the old homestead.

So, everyone take this chance to wish Dad a happy 50th, and to say a prayer for a fine model of Christian humility and gentleness.

Morality by the Numbers

The Pew Research Center published a report about public moral norms at the end of March which you may or may not have heard of. (I haven't been getting around as much as I used to, so stop me if everyone has already read this.) They asked people's opinions about whether various things were right, wrong or not a moral issue. The results?

88% of people agree that married people having an affair is wrong.
79% believe cheating on your taxes is wrong.
61% believe excessive drinking is wrong.
52% believe having an abortion is wrong. (Actually, the number is slightly deceptive, since they also have a "it depends" category which is only 1-2% for other wrongs but a full 11% for abortion -- so there are 63% of Americans who believe that having an abortion is morally wrong at least in some circumstances.

Here's some of their drill-down:

Two moral issues that have had the greatest political resonance in recent years - homosexuality and abortion - divide the broad public in almost exactly the same way, but are seen differently by some sub-groups in the population.

Men are more morally disapproving than women of homosexuality, but both genders have similar views about abortion. Likewise, the old and the young judge the morality of these two behaviors in different ways. On the question of homosexuality, the old are more disapproving than the young. But on the question of abortion, there is no clear difference between the old and the young.

Catholics are more disapproving of abortion than they are of homosexuality. Married people are more disapproving of abortion than are those not currently married, but there is no clear difference between the married and unmarried on homosexuality.

Despite these sub-group differences, the two behaviors wind up being judged in nearly identical ways by the full population. About half of those surveyed say abortion (52%) and homosexual behavior (50%) are morally wrong, while an identical 12% say that each of these activities is morally acceptable. Another one in three (33%) say homosexuality is "not a moral issue." Some 23% also say that about abortion, with an additional 11% volunteering an answer to the effect that "it depends on the situation." (Of all ten behaviors tested, abortion drew the most volunteered responses of that nature.)
There's a further drill-down that's even more interesting. 53% of those aged 18-49 believe having an abortion is always wrong versus only 48% of those 50-64. (Thank you baby boomers.) However, only 7% of those 18-49 say "it depends" versus 15% of those 50-64. 26% of those 18-49 say it's "not a moral issue" versus only 20% of those 50-64. So although in general the young are slightly more anti-abortion, they're also much more polarized on the issue.

And, of course, there's an inverse relationship between income and pro-life beliefs and between education and pro-life beliefs. Or, to slap an interpretation on it, if you're rich and educated you're more likely to think you're entitled to 'control your life' rather than be responsible for giving life to others.

Interesting stuff.

Who Is My Neighbor?

With all the talk about immigration policy lately (and some legitimate frustration that many Catholics feel with certain bishops who appear to be actively encouraging or legitimizing illegal immigration -- which is after all a law-breaking activity) I've been thinking a bit about Catholic teaching, economics, and immigration policy.

It seems to me that a lot of what is being argued about in regards to immigration (aside from the obvious point that people should not break the law when entering the country) is what your proper frame of reference should. For instance, if someone argues that cheap immigrant labor depresses the going rate for unskilled labor and thus deprives uneducated native-born Americans of a living wage -- that ignore the benefit to the immigrant laborer who even at minimum wage may be making 5-10 time what he could have made in his country of origin.

Obviously, choosing a frame of reference that only looks at the effect of immigration on native-born US citizens assumes a certain understanding of what a nation is, and how citizens of a nations should treat fellow citizens versus foreign nationals.

You see a similar frame of reference issue when people discuss outsourcing jobs. I have seen it lamented from time to time that with the decline of the US auto industry, one of the final areas in which a man with only a high school education would (including overtime) expect to make over 100k a year is drying up. Now, one of the reasons I'm particularly unsypathetic to this like of argument is that my father (who had a college degree and ran the planetarium at a community college for twenty-five years) certainly never got anywhere near 100k in annual salary, despite working very long hours. Nor do I, with my college degree, make anywhere near that much yet. But leaving issues of class envy aside, why is it a fundamentally more worthy thing to assure the income of a family in Detroit than a family in Mexico City or Seoul or what-have-you?

In Christian terms, this seems to be a question of, "Who is my neighbor?" Do we have a greater duty to make sure that US-born agricultural workers do not see their incomes fall by keeping immigrant workers out, or do we have a greater duty to help those would-be immigrants who want to enter the US in search of higher wages than are available in their native lands?

Now, of course, all of this is reliant on a semi-libertarian approach to immigration: "Let them in and give them the chance to improve their lots. It's worked in the past." I think the problem becomes more tricky if one makes certain liberal economic assumptions that some of our bishops seem attached to. It's one thing to say, "If an immigrant is happy to do the same work for less, let him do so," but another to say, "Let's displace a US-born worker with an immigrant worker and pay the immigrant the same since that's more just." At that point, why exactly are you taking the job away from the US-born worker?

Historically, when un-educated immigrants have entered this country, they have taken jobs which are considered to be on the lowest rungs of the employment ladder. They've done the hardest, most menial labor and received the lowest pay. However, this has been more than they made in their native lands, and it has provided them with a powerful work ethic to improve themselves and their children so that they won't be permanently trapped in those jobs. And although there have always been some US-born citizens who have seen immigrant labor as a threat, the flow of those immigrants has also provided the incentive to US-born workers to make sure they have the requisite skills not to be drive into unemployment by immigrant competition.

This can be a hard thing to watch. It means that recent immigrants often live in poverty, and unskilled US-born workers often find themselves out of work. But the general trend during the 19th and early 20th century when the immigration floodgates were wide open was towards improvement for all concerned.

However, if one desires fixed 'living wages' or 'just wages' and an extensive safety net, I don't know what that does to this picture.

A Warning from the Future

Thoughts of a Regular Guy linked to a short story/prophesy about Sharia ruling over Eurabia and a century long war with Islam.

The Time Traveler laughed again, but with more edge this time. "Yes, I know," he said. "We all know . . . up there in the future which some of you will survive to see as free people. Civil liberties. In 2006 you still fear yourselves and your own institutions first, out of old habit. A not unworthy – if fatally misguided and terminally masochistic – paranoia. I will tell you right now, and this is not a prediction but a history lesson, some of your grandchildren will live in dhimmitude."
This is a popular warning these days, and one which shouldn't be ignored. However, just in the interests of being contrarian, there's an equal and opposite warning that not many people are focusing on.

Right now, the ability of the 'Arab street' to push Europe and to an extent America hither and thither by expressing its displeasure rests on the West's unwillingness to actually do anything terribly harsh to Islamic countries or domestic Islamic immigrants and citizens. Thus, to an extent, the success of the radical Islamist movement relies on its not being a success.

In a world such as Simmons' short story describes where dozens if not hundreds of massive terror attacks have been made and sharia is in danger of being imposed in Europe, it's entirely possible that Europe will wake from its slumber and remember its not too distant history of ethnic cleansing. Ineffectual as the French and German governments may seem, they are infinitely better armed and than their minority citizens or the Middle East itself.

Whether or not groups like al Qaeda realize it, the success of their Jihad may rely on not appearing to be enough of a threat to cause militant extremism of a European variety to become resurgent.

Similarly, the ability of insurgents in Iraq to fight out military to a standstill rests entirely upon our country not actually becoming riled enough to wage a full scale war against them. The current war has one of the most lopsided casualty counts of any war in history. If it truly became a total war of the sort that some apocalyptic theorists envision, casualties for the Middle Eastern side would be so catastrophic as to cripple the region. I hope we will never have to fight a war on such a scale as to require the kind of total national commitment that went into WW2, but if we did, we'd probably win.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You Can't Choose Your Family

MrsDrP of Marriage As A Vocation as a good post up about growing up as a post-Vatican II Catholic, and makes some points that I identify with a lot:

I got to thinking about this because the more I troll the Catholic blogosphere, the more complaints I hear about the Mass post-Vatican II. How horrible it is to have female alter servers, how there are too many Eucharistic ministers, how terrible the NAB translation is, and especially how trite, banal, and soul-crushingly bad the music is. Lately, I've been seeing the Mass through their eyes and they are right. I have no knowledge of what the Church was like before Vatican II. My mother was a little girl when the changes happened. I, myself, was born under John Paul the Great. But I have grown up in this Church. I have heard the same readings and sang the same songs all my life. I know all the words to most of the songs in the Glory and Praise hymnal. I've always held hands during the Our Father and served as an alter server until I was into college.

The complaints against the Mass feel like attacks on my tradition. It forces me to look at my Church and feel ashamed of it. When my husband finally started to go to Mass with me, I felt that I had to apologize a lot of the liturgy. But I love the Church, and it hurts when people don't see her beauty and love her like family. I know that "Ashes" is a dumb song, but I have to sing it for it to feel like Ash Wednesday.
We don't call it Holy Mother Church for nothing, Catholicism does have a lot of the peculiar dynamics of a family, one of them being that (at least for me) I feel at liberty to complain about things like liturgy, yet get all defensive when I hear the same criticisms from people who aren't Catholic.

Additionally, I think there's a danger for those of us who complain about liturgy to get too caught up in the details and find almost every liturgy an occasion of sin. On the one hand, a liturgy that properly follows the rubrics and reflections the underlying action of the mass with sight and sound is a powerful tool for evangelization. On the other hand, the best mass is the one you're at. No degree of abstract love for the mass can make up for being tiresome to be around at every particular mass you attend.

Ah the difficulties of the golden mean...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Darwin Plays Mr. Mom

MrsDarwin and the baby have been off in Ohio since Friday morning attending her father's surprise birthday party (No longer a surprise now, so I can safely write about it.) so I've been holding down the roost with the two older girls over the weekend.

I must say it's been an experience -- and explains why there hasn't been any posting since Thursday. But I can hardly complain all that much since most of what I've been dealing with (not being able to do anything that doesn't involve watching the girls and not having anyone adult to talk to) are things my wife deals with every day.

I am, of course, outnumbered by the ladies, and Noogs and Babs take their duties as ladies very seriously, so I've had to provide them with occasional cups of tea (with lots of milk added) in their pretty tea cups and turn on "dancy music" upon demand. However, every so often Daddy's influence comes through. I asked them what they wanted to do yesterday morning and Noogs answered, "I think we should work on your gun, Daddy." So we spent a while in the back yard sanding down the stock of the Mauser. They quickly tired of the actual work and decided that the discarded pieces of sandpaper and steel wool were dinosaur eggs which they needed to take care of.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Core Is Mother, The Core Is Father

Through the four years I was there, there was a low level war being constantly waged among faculty at Franciscan University over whether the university should have a humanities core curriculum, and if so, what form it should take. From the trickles I've heard back, five years later the war continues to this day.

Since most of the small set of strongly Catholic liberal arts colleges (Steubenville, Thomas Aquinas, Christendom, Magdalene, Ave Maria, I'm sure I'm missing one or two...) have a core curriculum (or in the case of TAC are a core curriculum), Steubenville has always seemed to feel a little inadequate about the topic.

I remain unsure what to think about the core curriculum idea. On the one hand, I do feel strongly that people are better educated (as people, as Catholics, as citizens) if they have a basic grounding in literature, philosophy, theology and history. On the other hand, the problem with having specific courses which everyone is required to take is that there is a tendency for the quality of those courses to gravitate towards the median skill and interest level of those students. Which is why one generally tried never to take a 101 level course in a topic one is actually interested in -- such courses are far too often tailored to the needs of those who are not interested, and refuse to become so.

It annoyed me no end in college that my Business and Computer Science major friends tended to treat the humanities in general with "How do you say, 'would you like fries with that' in Latin?" derision. Indeed, it still annoys me quite a bit to hear people assert that no responsible man who wants to be a provider for his family would get anything other than a technical degree. (Though now I always get told "except for you, of course" since I've proved my worth by getting paid to do things they don't exactly understand with marketing analytics.) But the fact is that requiring these people to read Homer and Dante or Plato and Aquinas would not change their minds -- it would just result in having more disruptive students in literature and philosophy classes. Many people in the world aren't terribly interested in acquiring a classical education, and I'm not sure that making them do so against their inclination would actually help a whole lot.

I suppose the whole thing goes back to whether most people actually go to college to get an education, or just to get training. Surely, I think everyone would be better of with an education rather than technical training. And given that few people are collected enough to fully know their own minds at the age of 18 or 19, maybe requiring them to take a core curriculum may be the best way to introduce them to the elements of their culture that they would not otherwise seek out. And yet I have a hard time wishing a bunch of computer science students who would raise their hands and say, "You may know what an essence is, but five years from now I'll be making twice what you are and you'll still be teaching annoying kids like me" on anyone...

Why is it...

That on diaper packages, the photos of mothers and children have been altered to give them darker hair and eyes? I've noticed this for a while. Is it that the manufacturers think that it would be racist to show a white mother and child? Or are they looking for a change, seeing that the white mother and child have been dominant for years? Are they realizing that white people just aren't reproducing as much and that the people having babies are Hispanics, Muslims, Indians, and so are altering their packages to match their market?

Or perhaps it's that brown hair and eyes are predominant in the United States and so they want a picture that won't offend anyone. Though I don't know why people can't buy diapers in a package with a picture that doesn't resemble them. I don't have dark hair and eyes, and yet it doesn't bother me to look at a model who could be either Hispanic or Asian.

These are the things I wonder about.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It Takes a Parish...

Our parish cheerfully announced in last week's bulletin that "It takes a whole parish to raise a child." (This was followed by a notice that the tuition for CCD this year will be $50 and signups begin this week.)

Now, to begin with, it seems idiotic to adopt a Hillary Clinton slogan to use in a Catholic parish. But beyond that, it strikes me as untrue. I certainly would not say that either of the at which parishes I attended parochial school (I was in Catholic schools from K-5 and homeschooled thereafter) 'raised' me, nor that the religious education programs at the parishes we were members of later on were ever anything other than a cross to bear.

Some of this, clearly, is a result of the unfortunate trends in parish life and catechesis over the last fifty years. Nonetheless -- even if I lived in a parish where I wasn't convinced that whoever was charged with providing my children with CCD classes would not merely fail to know many things about the faith, but also 'know' many things which are no the case -- I would honestly rather not have such classes be the primary religious education for my children. Nor, even if my parish were a veritable heaven on earth, would I consider the parish to have 'raised' my children in the faith.

While I think many other orthodox or traditional-ish Catholics would agree with my sentiments here, I've been told by various people (both traditional and progressive) that once upon a time many Catholic parents did very much feel that their parish communities and institutions were responsible for raising their children in the faith. Part of me simply wants to retort, "Yes, and we can see how well that worked" but I can't help wondering if struggling against the catechetical adversity of the last half century has made the attitude of orthodox Catholic parents fundamentally more individualistic than it was in times past.

Have we come to embrace "Holy Mother Church" in terms of doctrine and hierarchy in Rome, but declared undue independence from local institutions such as parishes? One of the things that attracts me so powerfully to the Catholic Church is that it not merely an institution (by definition limited, imperfect and of its time) but rather the guardian of the body of doctrine which brings us knowledge of God, Himself the ultimate absolute, eternal, all powerful, unchanging, perfect, wholly out of time. But in embracing the Catholic Church absolutely, it is necessarily to give absolute fealty to the local parish and diocese, or may these human institutions be treated in the way I, as a conservative, tend to want to treat institutions: with caution if not suspicion and a strong desire to maintain my independence.