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

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Library Book Sale

The Darwins have just arrived home in triumph from the library book sale, bearing treasures. We're suckers for a used-book sale, and sure enough, we tore ourselves away with 26 books for ourselves, plus a gift for a friend.

Behold, our loot:
Book of Greek Myths, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
Illustrated Treasury of Children's Literature, edited by Margaret Martignoni
The Story of Babar, and
Babar and Father Christmas, both by Jean de Brunhoff
Babar the King and Grimm's Fairy Tales (a two-sided book)
The Emperor's Nightingale, by Hans Christian Anderson
The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden
Under the Window, by Kate Greenaway
Chanticleer and the Fox (from the Canterbury Tales), adapted and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Citizen of the Galaxy, and
Red Planet, by Robert Heinlein (both vintage)
Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink
Katie John, by Mary Calhoun
Caesar, by Patrick O'Brian (yes, that Patrick O'Brian)
Adventures of Raggedy Ann, by Johnny Gruelle
Kate Crackernuts, by K.M. Briggs
The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and Other Tales, by Hugh Lofting
Seven Volumes of the 16-volume series A History of Philosophy, by Fredrick Copleston, S.J.

Jack's funeral, and a thank you

Barb writes this account of Jack's funeral:
Friday morning we woke up to dreary, rainy weather. A grim day for our Jack. It was amazing, however, that it would stop raining whenever the men were carrying Jack's casket in or out of a building. My mother always says that there's an old saying that goes: "Happy the soul the rain falls on". If that's the case, then our Jack must be gloriously happy indeed.

The funeral Mass was crowded, approximately 1000 people there. Some people told us later that they couldn't find a place to park and figured that if there were that many cars, the church must be filled, so they sadly left. The Mass was beautiful, Father gave an awesome homily, the local Catholic boys' highschool sent their Glee Club to sing, the school principal gave a tribute to Jack, and even Jack's older sister Lindsey (age 12) got up and read a beautiful tribute also.

When we arrived at the cemetery, we went into a chapel in the mausoleum instead of being outside and Father said the final prayers...such beautiful words of consolation. Then the people from the cemetery had about 50 balloons that they handed out and we all went outside and released them together, sending our messages to Jack. It was a great way of making it easier to leave....

"Life is like a cycle.
Like a plant.....
It is born.
It does some good,
like it is medicine
for someone,
and then it dies."


To be born again in heaven.

This was the inside front page of Jack's funeral Mass program.

In the back, Jay and Suzy wrote this message and I wanted to pass it on to all of you who prayed for Jack and our family because this message is for you too... the first part is another quote from Jack.

"God really watches out for all of us. Like whenever I need a Lego piece
that I can't find, I pray and then a few minutes later,
it's right there!"

We too, have learned that God watches out for us. Our prayers
have been answered in each one of you. When you asked about
Jack, or watched over Lindsey and Kyle or brought us meals or
organized events or offered your prayers and support for our
family, we have felt God's presence. We cannot express enough
our thanks and deep gratitude to all of you. May God bless you always.

Jay, Suzy, Lindsey, Kyle

Jay and Suzy were always amazed and touched whenever I told them about all of you praying for Jack and our family. You have truly been a witness to all of us of Christian brotherhood.

God bless!

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Children are Watching Us

Time for some more Giovanni Guareschi.

(A fairly complete compilation of Guareschi's stories, both about his family and about Don Camillo) can be found at The Little World of Giovanni Guareschi.

The Children Are Watching Us

I was taking the air at the window that gave out on the garden. Behind the bars of the gate I saw the mailman putting something into the letter box. At that moment the Pasionaria appeared out of nowhere and went humming to the gate. She opened the letter box and took out a newspaper and several letters.

Unaware that I was watching her, she behaved in a completely natural manner: she tucked the newspaper under her arm, opened the letters, read them, and put them back in the envelopes.

I heard Albertino calling: "Anything there?"

"Nothing," the Pasionaria replied, in a tone of annoyance. "All his stuff."

She came into the house, left the letters and the newspaper, and went back out.

A little later, at the table, I brought the matter up.

"Margherita," I said, "did the mail come?"

"I didn't look in the box," Margherita said.

"I did," announced the Pasionaria. She got the letters and the newspaper. "There was only this junk here."

"How odd!" I cried. "Does the mail arrive in this condition now? I'm going to write a letter of protest to the postmaster. I'll have the mailman fired-he'll learn not to open my letters."

The Pasionaria shook her head. "It wasn't him that opened them," she said. "It was me."

I looked at the envelopes, one by one, then showed them to the Pasionaria.

"But they're all addressed to me," I said. "Why did you open them?"

Without the slightest hesitation, the Pasionaria replied: "I had to. She wasn't here when they arrived,, so I opened them."

"Inconceivable!" I cried. "Are you suggesting that your mother opens letters addressed to me?"

"Of course," replied the Pasionaria.

"Of course nothing!" I cried. "This is something new!"

The Pasionaria gave me a compassionate smile.

"Something new!" she repeated. "Just imagine! Then why are you always hollering at her for opening your letters?"

I had her right where I wanted her.

"Exactly!" I hollered. "And if I holler at your mother because I don't want her to open my letters, why do you open them?"

"Oh, you're always hollering," she replied, shrugging her shoulders. "That's all you ever do."

This was too much.

"Do you dare to criticize your parents?" I said.

"Not criticize," said the Pasionaria. "Listen."

Here Margherita intervened. "The children are watching us," she declared in a tone of bitter irony. "Don't forget it, Giovannino. "

"No, Margherita," I said, "I won't forget it. And when they see their mother shamelessly continuing to open letters addressed to her husband even though he's asked her not to, it's only natural for them to open letters addressed to their father or to their mother."

"No," the Pasionaria corrected me, "they don't open letters addressed to their mother."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't open letters addressed to Mama. If her own husband doesn't open them, why should her children?"

It was logic all right, and I felt the full impact of its ghastly lack of logic.

"Very well," I said. "Then why open my letters? If you're your mother's children, aren't you also your father's children?"

Albertino was struck by my clear and cogent argument and indicated that he approved it unconditionally. The Pasionaria, however, had something more to say.

"I don't open my father's letters, I open the letters that come for my mother's husband. Father and mother are the same, they're the parents. But the husband doesn't concern the children, he concerns the wife."

I refused to countenance this.

"For children," I said, "parents are exclusively father and mother. And children must see their parents exclusively as father and mother."

The Pasionaria was not so easily vanquished.

"My mama," she said, "is always my mama even though she's your wife. But my papa, like when he upsets my mama, isn't my papa any more but my mama's husband."

"And how about when your mother upsets me?" I cried indignantly. "Who gets upset, her husband or your father?"

"Her husband," was the Pasionaria's cynical reply. "That's her affair, I don't want to get mixed up in it."

The conclusion was both terrible and inescapable.

"Then all this means," I said, "that while your mother, for, you, is always your mother, I am sometimes your father and sometimes a man who has no direct connection with you but with your mother. Sometimes, in other words, I'm a stranger to you!"

The Pasionaria evidently found my reasoning somewhat difficult to follow, for she remained silent for a time, thinking it over. Then she came to a decision.

"When I was born, you weren't there," she said. "You came back later. But Mama was there."

"So what?" cried Albertino. "It's the men who go to war, not the women!"

"What's that got to do with it?" said the Pasionaria with a shrug. "If women went to war, then my papa would have been home and my mama would have been in the war and I wouldn't have been born."

The Pasionaria left with her brother, and when she said "So long" to me, I didn't know whether she was speaking to her father or the husband of her mother.

When I got home at noon the next day, I found several letters beside my plate, all properly sealed. I derive considerable satisfaction from this-and the Pasionaria appeared to derive considerable surprise. I was aware o her glances as I opened the envelopes with a knife. I was content.

But the next day, unfortunately, I got home a little before noon, and as I crossed the hall I saw Margherita standing over the gas stove in the kitchen, holding an envelope over a kettle of boiling water.

The Pasionaria was watching her.

I went out and stayed out a good half hour.

When I sat down at the table, I found three letters beside my plate. They were all sealed.

After lunch, the children left, and I said to Margherita: "I saw you opening my letters like a concierge. With the little girl right there. Fine tricks you teach your daughter!"

Margherita looked around.

"I didn't teach it to her," she said. "She showed me how to open the envelopes that way."

"Margherita, this is terrible."

"She's the one," Margherita whispered. "She's been after me all morning. She said I let my husband walk all over me, she said I'm spineless!"

"Margherita, you're treading on dangerous ground. You must not listen to her."

"I don't know what to do," Margherita murmured. "I don't know what to do. Giovannino, try to understand!"

I tried to understand.

Good Kids' Movies: Kiki's Delivery Service

One of the rules of the Darwin household (created with the primary intent of preventing master and mistress from becoming any less sane than they are already) is that the monkeys may not own videos or watch TV which the senior Darwins don't also enjoy. This definitely makes things like Barney, Seasame Street, Blues Clues, and anything with Barbie or Pretty Ponies or Care Bears or Strawberry Shortcake verboten.

However, every so often something sufficiently charming comes along that we genuinely enjoy adding it to the cannon. Such a one is Kiki's Delivery Service.

While we've enjoyed other Miyazaki films we've seen such as Spirited Away, they've been a bit too odd for the small ones to see without fears of nightmares and such. Kiki, however, is comprehensible to a 3-4 year old, beautifully animated, and just all around a nice story. (Maybe I should just break down an say "sweet", though without any of the treacle the term usually suggests.)

Kiki is a 13-year-old witch off to do the traditional one year's training alone in another city. With her black cat Gigi (a comic character who never goes over the edge into just being annoying like certain animal sidekicks one could name) she settles in a seaside town and starts a delivery service, flying around town on her broom. She's taken under the wing of a very pregnant baker and her husband, and makes a number of friends including a neighborhood boy obsessed with aeronautics, a young female artist who lives off in the woods, and a lonely old lady who likes to bake.

If you're looking for alternative to letting Poomba and Timon's Flatulent Adventure or some other product of modern American animation artistry into your home, give Kiki a shot.

Next up, how about a nice story about bunnies? How would a four-year-old like the animated version of Watership Down? Maybe not quite yet...

The Social Whirl

What we did last weekend:

What we're doing this weekend:

What we're doing next weekend:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Classics to Tech: How to Get There from Here

The other day, Kevin Jones (who, BTW, has written a really really cool translation help tool for anyone out there studying Latin, Italian or Spanish -- or trying to brush up their rusty vocabulary), asked in response to a post if I had any advice for a classics major trying to bet into the computer science industry. At the risk of tooting my own horn (and since work has been all-consuming enough this week I haven't had time to think of much else) I figured I'd put down a few thoughts based on my own experience, for whatever that's worth.

Take a job, any job
Well, not necessarily any job. But if you have an apptitude for picking up tech/programming/database skills but no career track record in the area, you're unlikely to get an IT or developer job. However, there are lots of positions which end up benefiting a lot from technical expertise which don't reside in a technical department. The most important thing is flexibility. If you land a fairly cross-functional position, it's easy to dig in, learn the needs of your work group, and produce tools that will become valuable to those around you (or simply allow you to do more work, faster than your peers).

Help People
If there's something that will make you stand out from the standard web development or IT department, it's saying "sure, I can do that" in response to requests. IT and development departments (especially in large organizations) have a habbit of protecting themselves with 12 month+ development roadmaps and prioritazation requirements that make it impossible to get basic, needed tasks done by IT. If you have the toolset to build the small but much needed reporting tools, portals, wikis and such that people need, you'll be much valued. (Just make sure that in doing so you're not violating any rules about who is allowed to create web content.)

Explain & Listen
I'm not as good a developer or even quite as good a reporting wiz as some of the other people I deal with. However, if you take the time to really understand people's needs and to explain to them what you can provide them and why (including why any limitations are necessary) you'll have set yourself above 90% of other 'technical' people. Plus, with a solid classics background, you should be use to dealing with complex abstract concepts and explaining them in decent English prose.

Change Jobs (or Go Independant) When Necessary
As I said, you're unlikely to get a technical job right off, if you don't have the resume tack record to support it. However, once you become known within your organization for doing strong technical work, it's usually much easier to make that case. So changing jobs after 1-2 years of proving yourself is key. Doing independant projects (or simply running your own company for a while) is another great way to prove yourself and build up a good brag list.

After 5-10 Years, No One Will Know the Difference
In my experience, if you come out of college with a Classics degree (or a degree in some similar field) and head towards working in a technical or semi-technical field, you will start out making anywhere from 25-50% less than people with CompSci degrees. However, after 5-10 years, not only will there be no difference in your earning power, but no one will know or care about your degree.

That said, beware of getting boxed in to a type of work that's not sufficiently central to the business. If you want to be a developer, work for a company that produces software or web applications, or start a consulting practice building sites and/or applications. If you work at a company in some other field, get involved with something like sales or marketing analytics. The closer you are to what makes the company money, the fewer career blocks you will have. While if you are in the "IT Department" at a non-tech company (or even many tech companies) you become the bad guy who can never get the infrastructure up fast enough for the rest of the firm to do business. If your work group is made up of aging tech support guys who were promoted to IT so they could get a raise (all of whom have 10-20 years of seniority on you) rest assured that almost no matter how good you are there is unlikely to be a lot of advancement room for you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Notes on the reading of Pooh

I have never been a fan of the Disney oeuvre, but it is my considered opinion that they have done a great disservice to the public and serious damage to the imaginations of small fry everywhere, with their conception of A.A. Milne's characters. I have a fondness for Pooh (as who does not?) and I loathe almost everything about the Pooh cartoons -- the simplification of Ernest Shepard's charming illustrations, the reduction of the stories from a form that necessitates adult interaction with a child to a smear of bright colors and noise, the dumbing-down of Milne's delightful prose -- but most of all, the voices. Pooh's querulous hesitancy, Piglet's effeminate stutter, Eeyore's moronic drone, Tigger's hyperactive lisp -- no more!

As I've been reading Pooh to the girls for the past several years, I've come up with a set of voices that seem more in line with the characters as written. Pooh, to me, is the quintessential John Bull country squire -- hale, gruff, full of bluster, none too bright but with a certain internal logic that may or may not connect with reality. This Pooh has no truck with apologetic character in the cartoons.

Piglet strikes me as having more than a touch of Bertie Wooster in him. He seems the type of useless young gentleman that one might kicking around a fictional English club (probably the Drones). He may stutter from indignation or surprise, but not because he's a frightened baby. (For the record, Piglet is rarely if ever written as stuttering.)

My model for Eeyore is the sarcastic, sharp, working-class intellectual J.G. Quiggin from A Dance to the Music of Time, or (for those who can't seem to find the time to finish all twelve volumes of that massive work) Barnes, the Captain's bitter valet in Gosford Park. (Coincidentally, Adrian Scarborough, the actor who plays Barnes, also plays Quiggin in the BBC's adaptation of Dance to the Music of Time.) Eeyore may be dour and self-absorbed, but he's not slow. Take his meditation on the letter A:
"I'm telling you. People come and go in the Forest, and they say, 'It's only Eeore, so it doesn't count.' They walk to and fro saying, 'Ha ha!' But do they know anything about A? They don't. It's just three sticks to them. But to the Educated -- mark this, little Piglet -- to the Educated, not meaning Poohs and Piglets, it's a great and glorious A. Not," he added, "just something that anybody can come and breathe on."
--The House at Pooh Corner
Tigger's energy and enthusiam make him the perfect candidate for an Australian voice. Think Steve Irwin. Think Crocodile Dundee.

Rabbit is thrifty, sensible, educated but not pretentious. I haven't quite pegged his voice yet, but I think he's Scottish.

Owl is not nearly as smart as Rabbit, but he has gravitas and a certain pomposity. I imagine him posing in a courtroom wearing a large powdered wig and saying "M'Lud". He is slow and grave and rather convinced by his own posturing. His voice is deep and measured and mellifluous.

Darwin and I are divided on the issue of Kanga and Roo. He was raised listening to a Kanga with a Southern accent. That doesn't sound right to me. I haven't placed Kanga in my own mind yet, so I don't have a distinctive voice for her.

One thing is for certain: the Disney cartoons have no place in my house. They may be innocuous entertainment for the young'uns, but one should never make the mistake of confusing blandness with quality.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Great War -- Out of Modern Memory

MrsDarwin and I have become quite curious to see Flyboys. The Great War and aviation have always been interests of mine, and since the great accusations I've seen leveled against it so far are essentially "sure it's well made and great looking, but it's just some sweet innocent movie that could have been made 50 years ago" I've become more interested in it rather than less.

To whit, I was reading an article about the making of the movie in Friday's WSJ, where it was said:

Another thing militating against World War I movies is that few people are still alive with first-hand memories of the war, and it isn't a big part of public consciousness. "Even among people who live and breathe aviation, there are very few who can tell you much about the planes or the flying experiences of World War I," said Jay Miller, an Arlington, Texas, aviation author.
I don't know that this is actually one of the things that the authors was thinking of, but it seems to me that the greatest difficulty for any modern author writing about the Great War is that the world changed so much during the course of the war, that it's very difficult to portray how it was that people went into the war. Films like All Quiet On The Western Front and Paths of Glory view the war so much through the lens of what it did to the world, that they tell us little about how the world got itself into such a place.

Change is always the driver of drama, and thus the change that turned the Edwardian world into the nightmare of the trenches seems like the most interesting story about World War I. And yet, to our modern post-Great-War eyes, the Edwardian era is far more alien than the 20s and 30s. The Great War created sea change in Western Civilization, and it is only with a certain degree of effort that we can push ourselves back into the mentality of a world that had never yet entered a World War.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Mind of God (Part 2: Creator of Everything)

A while back, I took a stab at writing about the classic problem of reconciling the existence of suffering and death with an all-good and all-powerful God. This is the second part in that (obviously rather occasional) series.

The other day I ran across a post in which the author said: "I can't quite see the reasonableness of a faith that has no trouble dealing with, say, gravity as a non-divine process but has trouble with evolution."

Now, this is hardly the first time I've heard such a sentiment expressed, but it's as good an example as any of a problem that I find in much thinking (both secular and Christian) about what it means to say that God "created" the world.
In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram, is a simple enough statement, yet it is perhaps a rather hard concept for people to truly wrap their minds around. Most specifically, what we seem to have difficulty grasping is the traditional Christian understanding that God did not merely assemble or form the universe and everything in it, but that he created it ex nihilo, out of nothing.

Razib has mentioned in a number of posts the tendency of humans to state belief in abstract philosophical or theological beliefs, but when asked to provide a narrative example, to fall back on describing something rather more like a human with super powers. This tendency seems to be especially at play when it comes to the question of God's creative power.

As Christians we believe that God created everything out of nothing, and that he holds the universe in existence by his active will. The ordering and function of the universe is thus a product of the order and rationality of God's mind. This is not merely an attempt to complete the sentence "God is soooo big that..." but rather the result of long contemplation on the "ex nihilo" aspect of "creavit Deus". If there was truly nothing before God's initial act of creation, if there was no previously existent substance on which He acted, then the existence of the universe relies upon God's will and upon nothing else.

This is a kind of creation which none of us have any personal experience with, and which it is quite difficult for us to wrap our minds around. (Some would say this is because it's a figment of our imaginations, others that this is because we're limited by having an inside looking out view.) Thus, it's all too common for people (believers and otherwise) to think of the concept of God creating the universe as similar to some giant member of the United Auto Workers building a Buick.

This Buick mentality strikes me as being very much at the root of the Intelligent Design movement, which attempts to shore up belief in God by 'scientifically proving' that God must have intervened in the creation of specific biological structures and systems. Yet this division of things into those which are clearly divinely designed and those which are 'merely natural'.

If God created the world in the sense that we traditionally understand it as Christians, then gravity, evolution, and the weak nuclear force are all equally 'divine' and equally 'natural'. A snowflake, a puddle of mud, and a butterfly are all equally 'designed'. And evolution is 'theistic' not because God reaches in and tweaks something once in a while, or because God guides it, but because everything it relies upon to function, every particle and wave of matter in the universe exists because and only because God wills it to do so.

If we accept this, as we claim to by our name as Christians, then it seems odd to worry that the patterns and laws according to which life grows and changes either prove or disprove God's creative power.

UPDATE: I've been remiss in my blog-reading lately, so I'd missed this great post from Scott Carson the other day touching on the same principle of continuous creation.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Meatless Fridays

We observe meatless Fridays around here. This isn't often very hard -- we do our shopping on the weekends, so by Friday the fridge is getting rather bare. (Darwin opened the door the other day and remarked, "It's a bit minimalist, isn't it?") And, although we both like meat, we don't eat it every evening or even all that frequently. I sometimes wonder how much of a sacrifice our meatless Fridays really are.

Every now and then it does impinge on me, such as when we've had a rowdy morning and the girls are clamoring for lunch and I open the fridge and see leftover chicken enchiladas or spaghetti with meat sauce. It's more of a sacrifice for me to make sure the girls don't eat meat on Fridays than not to eat it myself.

Of course, Friday is usually when I get a craving for a thick, juicy hamburger...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Catholic Homeschool Carnival

Alrighty, all you good Catholic Moms and Dads and Kids who have something to say about homeschooling! Maureen Wittman is putting together a new Catholic Homeschool Carnival and needs your posts!
I have exciting news to share! The first ever Catholic Homeschool Carnival is being pulled together.

If you're a Catholic homeschooler and a blogger then don't miss this opportunity to take part in this historic event.

The Catholic Homeschool Carnival will take place once a month, on the first Friday. The deadline to get your favorite post(s) in is the 25th of each month.

Click here to submit your post. And make sure to tell all your friends!

It would be extra cool if some talented Catholic homeschooler out there came up with a nifty graphic or two to use in promoting the carnival.
The deadline for the first carnival is in four days, so you'd better start submitting right now.

Livin' la vida loca

It's been one of those weeks -- you know what I mean.

Sunday -- Babs spends more time out of Mass than in it, following a whining fit. To unwind, Darwin and MrsDarwin watch the second half of Patton in the evening. Highly recommended, by the way. That evening, everyone ends up in Mom and Dad's bed.

Monday -- Dentist. 'Nuff said. MrsDarwin wrestles with strapping in three children in the back of the Camry and swears that we need that minivan soon. That evening, everyone ends up in Mom and Dad's bed.

Tuesday -- MrsDarwin gets up early to go for the first of her three weekly runs leading up to Saturday's group run in training for the half-marathon in Feb. The girls work on their growing mud pit in the back yard. (Anyone know anything about ways to lock an outdoor faucet?) Mom and Dad lock the bedroom door, which leads to pounding and rattling of doorknobs at 3 am.

That evening, the Darwin family ventures out to the new outlet mall, so MrsDarwin can get something new to wear to Wednesday's business dinner. As the girls play on some rides, Babs announces, "Stinky!" A frantic call is placed to MrsDarwin, at the other end of the mall. While MrsDarwin and Babs rush to the bathroom, Darwin takes Noogs and Baby to a children's store to buy a new dress (which comes, handily enough, with a plastic bag for wrapping the soiled dress). Noogs feels it keenly that her younger sister gets a new dress as a reward for pooping on the old one, and wails all the way home. The weary parents yield to vile temptation on the way home and stop at Sonic for milkshakes and hamburgers. Baby is delighted with everything. That evening, everyone ends up in Mom and Dad's bed.

Wednesday -- MrsDarwin intends to get up for the second of her three weekly runs, but the alarm doesn't go off. Darwin comes home early from work with a nasty allergy attack. While he drains in the recliner, MrsDarwin takes the kids to playgroup. MrsDarwin wrestles with strapping in three children in the back of the Camry and swears we need that minivan soon. While the kids play and the tv blares, MrsDarwin suddenly feels keenly her lack of intellectual companionship. She wrestles with strapping in three children in the back of the Camry and returns home. Darwin and MrsDarwin drop off the kids with the sitter and head for the business dinner. Baby screams all the way to the restaurant but makes up for it by devouring bread and apples during the appetizer and sleeping through the rest of the dinner. Good girl. That evening, Mom and Dad lock the door, but Mom forgets to relock it when throwing the whining cat out of the room, so everyone ends up in Mom and Dad's bed in the morning.

Thursday -- Five minutes before the alarm is set to go off, there is a knock at the door. MrsDarwin groggily splashes through the kitchen (?) and finds the neighbor there, who apologizes for waking us up, but did we know that there's water pouring out of our garage? MrsDarwin rushes to investigate and finds that a hose has slipped off the water softener and is flooding the garage and part of the kitchen. Darwin and MrsDarwin sop up water and wring out towels and are VERY grateful that most of the furniture has been moved from the garage to the living room after painting. MrsDarwin misses her morning run again. The girls are inspired by all the water and head out to the back yard to work on their mud pit. Darwin pulls the big crib out of the garage and vows that it's being set up tonight.

Tentatively for tomorrow -- MrsDarwin goes running. Darwin goes to check out, and possibly buy, a minivan.

How's your week so far?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Good Mind is Hard to Find

Deep Furrows had a post a while back about the advantages of a general education in the context of Great Books programs. Now as in the 20s, there's still a great deal of differing opinion as to whether a broad, humanities education is a good preparation for professional life, or just for asking "would you like fries with that" in ancient languages. (Believe me, I got this a lot as a Classics major.)

The other day I had an opposite experience, one that I'm still not used to. After seeing someone with a strong resume full of IT work flounder on taking over some reporting projects that I'd put together, someone commented to me: "It really is hard finding someone with your technical background."

"I don't have a technical background," I pointed out. "I've never taken a class in database work, I just picked all this up on the fly."

I'd say this ought to be the sort of thing that puts the "education is a matter of training, and training in the proper field is essential to performance in the professional realm" meme to rest, but honestly, I do know a lot of poeple with similar humanities backgrounds who don't seem to pick up technical skills with nearly the same facility. (Though I will say, of that of the small number of other people I know with college or graduate level Classics experience, all of them can program -- mostly better than I can. Perhaps learning Greek and Latin sharpens the same skills that you use in programming and database work.)

No matter how much one may understand the concept mentally, it's hard for me as a modern American to think in terms of people not all being created equal.

Certainly, it seems to me that a general education such as provided by a great books curriculum or one of the fields in the 'humanities' (assuming that science and math are not excessively neglected) ought to teach a student enough about human nature (while providing enough experience in learning new subjects rapidly) to allow the student to do well in nearly anything. Yet it doesn't always.

As a humanities partisan, I tend to notice when people with technical degree backgrounds get stuck in the "must learn it first" mentality where, until they have a new process spoon fed to them and demonstrated in some sort of class or training session, innovation and figuring things out intuitively seems impossible. And yet (though they seldom tend to make it into the professional circles where I find myself these days) I every-so-often run into people from back in our college days who seem to have come out of a humanities education with the same benighted mentality, and a much less marketable set of skills than an unimaginative Computer Science or Marketing major.

Perhaps at root it's more a matter of the limitations of the person than the virtues of the academic field.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meditations from the dentist's chair

Sitting. Sitting. Waiting for them to check my teeth, waiting for anything. Wish I hadn't forgotten my book on the table by the door. I have all this quiet time, and I can't DO anything with it.

But I can. These still moments are a perfect time to pray. I offer a Chaplet of Divine Mercy for Jack. I'm sure I can finish the chaplet uninterrupted -- not sure if I'd have time to say a rosary.

The assistant comes in, peers in my mouth, murmurs and makes a notation. Then he's gone, and I'm sitting again. I gaze at the tray of sharp and shiny tools and wonder what it would be like to be a prisoner strapped in a seat, looking at instruments of torture and waiting, waiting. Would I be calm then? Somewhere in the world someone is in that unenviable position, and I offer a prayer for them. God comfort the frightened, and aid the suffering.

The man in the next cube announces proudly and often that he has 28 grandchildren. Time for some mental mathematics. If he had four children and each of them had seven children, that's 28. Or vice versa. Perhaps he had six children and four of them have five children and two have four. That's 28. Maybe he has eleven children. My grandmother had eleven children, and she has 34 grandchildren. That's a lot, when you think about it.

Here's the dentist. He pokes at my teeth and calls out numbers to his assistant (why can't I remember what a dental assistant is called?). Yes, I have cavities. Why? I take good care of my teeth -- floss, brush twice a day, don't eat very much sugary food. I never had a cavity until I was twenty, and then only one since then. Grr. At least I still get to keep my wisdom teeth. And my gums are fine. Yay.

More waiting. I ponder dental hygiene. And the tools again. One of my previous cavities was shallow enough to be drilled without any painkiller. And it was painless, except for the once or twice the dentist came near the nerve. I'm glad it's 2006. I'll have a baby with no medication, but dental work is in an entirely different catagory. Gimme that novocaine.

Getting fillings isn't cheap, as I discover when a lady in scrubs comes in with the financial rundown. Still, we can afford it without much difficulty. I recall a time not so far in the past when that wouldn't have been the case. God has blessed us.

I sure hope they use the white fillings here...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Rest in peace, little Jack

Jack Brent Edward
September 8, 1997 - September 18, 2006

May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you,
and take you to the Holy City,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.
May the choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to Abraham's Side;
where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.

May Jack's soul and
the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God,

This morning at 11:40 AM, Jack slipped peacefully into the loving arms of His Saviour...

Nearing the end?

I just got word that Jack's breathing is much worse....Kathy just left to go pick up Jack's siblings from school to take them home so they can be there. We think that it will be today.
Please keep Jack and his family in your prayers today.

Who would lead the last crusade?

It is an oft-stated meme in certain circles that Western Civilization is currently engaged in a great religious war -- without being willing to admit the fact. There is, I think, I certain degree of truth to this, though it's often vastly overstated. It's true that the roots of the 'war on terror' are religious more than they are political. And certainly, that's a fact that no Western leader wants to admit out loud, assuming they understand it in the first place.

What I'm less clear on is whether there lies in the hearts of Islamist leaders a desire to overtly attack Western religion as well as Western secular culture. Certainly, historically there had. If there isn't now, it's probably not because of any desire for ecumentical dialogue so much as out of a belief that Western religion has curled up and quietly died in the face of the 'great satan' of secular culture.

The other day a friend was worring out loud that an Islamist assassination attempt against Benedict XVI might not be far off. I pray not. But if it happened, I can't help wondering what would follow. (Harry Turtledove, call your office.)

I remember sitting up at 2am local time watching the inauguration mass of Benedict XVI, seeing so many world leaders assembled in St. Peter's Square and wondering: Does some fanatic out there have access to ballistic missiles that work better than the ones North Korea has to sell? What would happen to the world if fire rained down on St. Peter's square, taking the pope, nearly all the cardinals, and a wide assortment of world leaders off the face of the earth in one fell swoop. (It seems like I read somewhere that before 9-11 one of the various ideas that was discussed by Al Qaeda was destroying the Vatican.)

Nothing happened, of course. But I can't help wondering what would happen if it did. Or if some Al Qaeda-affiliated group assassinated the pope in less spectacular fashion. However many thousands of millions of us were willing to sign up, would any major country be willing to take that as a pretext for a war? And, even if so, whom would we wage war against -- in a Middle Eastern political landscape where all real governments carefully maintain plausible deniability about such things, however much they may approve of them.

One prays we'll never find out.

But in the meantime I've got a copy of An Introduction to Persian lurking in my Amazon cart, and try to keep my physical fitness up to enlistmen standards... As the boy scouts always told us, it never hurts to be prepared. Maybe the Knight of Malta will become a military order again before all is said and done...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jack in the news

Barb says:

We just got back from my brother's house where we were able to watch a tape of the news segment about Jack. It was beautiful. I did check out the station's website to see if it was there, but it's not.

Jay was saying how blessed they feel. He said that might sound strange coming from the father of a child with terminal cancer, but they would rather have had Jack for nine years with the cancer, then to have not had Jack at all. He got all teary-eyed and both of his other children did a great job in the interview too. His 12 year old sister said that Jack would always be in her heart.

We're going to see if someone has a digital copy of the segment so that maybe we can get it on the computer and put it on here.

Meanwhile, today Jack's heartrate has begun to slow down and become more irregular. His oxygen levels are dropping off too. I really am beginning to believe that this extra time our dear Lord has given us is to help the family a little with the transition from having Jack with them to not having Jack at all. It's been 10 days now since he has awakened.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Uncivilized Conduct

The irony of angry Muslim mobs burning the pope in effigy for mentioning (in passing) in a lecture that Islam has a history of approving of forced conversion and jihad has hardly been lost on the commentariat.

Nay-the-less, smug western commentators have perhaps forgotten how recently burning in effigy was so common as not to merit comment in 'civilized' western nations. Burning the pope in effigy has a long history in England (especially on Guy Fawkes Day) and is still carried on by the most orange of the Ulster Unionists. Of course, the Ulster-ites don't in the same breath demand that we think of them as a people of peace -- so the irony isn't as great even if the smoke is much same.

And here in the states, during the two world wars, burning Kaiser Bill and Adolf Hitler in effigy was certainly not unknown.

Such strong feelings (or at least crass expression of them) have gone out of fashion in modern Europe and America. And that, really, is what makes the situations so fraught with irony. Various self proclaimed Muslim advocates have declared that the pope should show more respect for Islam and celebrate Christianity's similarities with Islam rather than its differences. That's not necessarily a bad thing to do at times, and yet, if (as the pope clearly believes) Christianity contains the fullest expression of God's revelation, then the words of the Emperor Manuel II which Benedict quoted are unquestionably true: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

If we believe, and believe with conviction, that Christianity contains the fullness of God's revelation, then those elements of Islam which touch upon the truth do so only by parroting Christianity. And those elements which disagree with Christianity are false. And while a statement of "Whenever you agree with me, you're quite right" may (if disguised enough by glowing prose) seem diplomatic, the emperor's words remain the bottom-line truth, at least from a Christian perspective.

The sense in which Benedict has caused offense is that he has quoted a statement about the objective nature of truth (and that divine revelation as held by Christianity is truth) in a world which considers such statements rude and insensitive. Various spokesmen of the Muslim community have become all to used to using this modern Western disbelief in objective truth to win concessions -- and yet their words ring false, because they clearly do not really believe that Islam and Christianity should both be celebrated as true. They believe Islam is true and Christianity is false.

So rather than saying that they object to the pope's statement because it is insensitive, they should get down to business and say that they object to it because they believe Christianity is a false religion and Islam is a true one.

Forest & Mote provides some lengthy further thoughts on the historical sources of rage on the Arab street.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Modesty redux

As Darwin and I were discussing the writing of his modesty post below, I was reminded of an incident that took place when I was a freshman at Steubenville.

One hot, muggy day in September, as I was passing by the chapel, I noticed the lines for confession and decided on the spur of the moment to go. I usually prefer to go to confession behind the screen, but for whatever reason that day I sat down across from the priest. I blessed myself, confessed my sins, and waited to receive my penance. And the priest said, "Do you always go to confession in shorts?"

To say that I was mortified and repulsed would be putting it mildly. Perhaps he felt that shorts were such an offense against the sacrament that he was justified in drawing my attention to it as rudely as possible, but the fact that he was paying more attention to my legs than to my confession was deeply disturbing. After that, I went to confession off-campus as much as possible and avoided that particular priest. His willingness to humiliate me to make a point about modesty (I guess) gave evidence of either a lustful disposition or a arrogant and condescending personality , and either way I wanted no further acquaintance.

Benedict XVI on Faith, Reason & Islam

Razib at Gene Expression (classic) links today to a speech Benedict XVI gave to the University of Regensburg dealing with the place of reason in faith, using as a jumping-off point a dialogue (circa 1391) between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and specifically (in this section) their different approaches to the relationship between faith and reason.

In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable....

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality....

As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the 'logos.'"

This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word -- a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance....
There is of course much more, and very much worth reading.

Avert Thine Eyes

I've been meaning to write a post about modesty for a while. One reason is that it's a topic on which I believe much woolly thinking is done. And the other is more self-serving: in conservative Catholic circles, modesty sells. You may have heard that sex sells, and this is true, but modesty is the sex of conservative Catholic blogging. Just look at the comments thread of something like Jimmy Akin's recent post explaining that no, it is not acceptable under Canon Law for a priest to refuse to give communion to a 14-year-old girl because she is wearing a spaghetti strap dress. 150+ comments later, the tide seems to be flowing against Mr. Akin's reason, and in favor of those who insist that a glimpse of shoulder is doubtless just what is needed to send any red blooded man to hell. (I'm quite willing to agree that such a dress is almost certainly not appropriate attire for mass -- I just disagree with a) refusing communion to someone for that reason and b) insisting that seeing a girl in a spaghetti strap dress is somehow a grave incitement to sin for all or many of the male congregants.)

I've always been annoyed, as a man, by this line of argument -- and not primarily because I don't want to give up the occasional sight of a well-formed shoulder blade or clavicle. Rather, it annoys me to hear other men claim that we are, as a sex, so completely controlled by our baser instincts that upon seeing a women in a spaghetti strap dress, we cannot help but to wallow in a desire to seize her roughly and have our way with her.

This isn't just a "I can hold my liquor so leave me alone and let me drink" kind of reaction. Rather, there is a certain kind of crassness, a debasement of all that is beautiful in the pursuit of avoiding lust, to which I believe many of us who are religious are prone to be tempted.

Lust is an ancient human failing, and yet one which took longer than many for us to properly understand. In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II writes that before the fall Adam and Eve were "naked and unashamed" not because of some sort of happy hedonism (as a modern "liberated" person might think of it), but rather because in their state of initial grace, Eve knew that Adam would not (when looking at her) objectify her as a tool for gratification rather than seeing her for what she was: a person, his wife, his friend, his lover.

After the fall, each spouse suspected the other of desiring to exploit (and both felt within themselves the desire to exploit the other) and so they were ashamed and clothed themselves.

Though ancient Israel was far from being without standards in regards to modesty (by modern standards they were positively Taliban-like) Lust is first clearly defined as serious sin (rather than simply a desire to commit a sin) by Christ when he says, "He who thinks impure thoughts about a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

If anyone needed proof that Christ was here to give us "difficult sayings" and not merely to provide psychologically comforting advice, this is it. The idea that simply thinking "impurely" could somehow be on a par with committing adultery has given many people sleepless nights ever since. What then does it mean to have impure thoughts?

Lust, the having of impure thoughts about another, seems to me to be different from simply noticing that someone is attractive to the eye or from appreciating that attractiveness. One may admire someone without lust. Admiration may even be in regard to those qualities which are generally thought of as sexual. Christ described lust as adultery of the heart, and I think that gives us a rather good direction to think in. Adultery is choosing to seek sexual satisfaction with someone other than your spouse. Lust is the attempt to gain sexual satisfaction from someone you're not having sex with. While the object of lust may never know that the sin takes place, lust is a sin of violation as well as impurity. The man who commits lust uses a woman as a tool for his satisfaction (or arousal) without her even knowing it -- a sort of mental incubus.

What, then, of modesty? We know that sin is a matter not merely of action but of will. Thus, if one tries to commit adultery but is turned down one's prospective partner in sin, one is morally just as guilty as if one had been successful. If propositioning someone is just as sinful as actually committing adultery, then intentionally inciting lust is in itself sinful, regardless of whether anyone is actually inspired to lust by one's actions.

If lust consists of "adultery of the heart" and the objectification of another, then inciting lust is behavior which intentionally seeks to achieve this result. Some examples are obvious: erotic dancing, posing for Playboy, etc. Other examples may be very culturally specific. In conservative Muslim or Hindu circles, even the long sleeved tee shirts and denim jumpers of the Catholic homeschooling set would look scandalous. And traditional female dress in sub-saharan Africa would be unacceptable for public venues even in our own notoriously skanky society.

The distinction between modesty and incitement to lust is not necessarily a matter of the quantity of skin exposed, or which skin is exposed. I think one could more successfully make the case that the swimsuit model to the right is behaving in a manner to incite lust than that the Venus of Urbino is -- though the model would merely attract attention if she went to a beach dressed like that, while the Venus would be arrested if she appeared thus in public. The Venus's nudity violates our cultural norms, which demand that certain parts of a woman's body be covered in public. Yet Titan's painting does not seek to cause lust. It shows the human body as a work of art and a thing of beauty, but not an object of lust. There is no "come hither" in the eye of Venus. Indeed, in facial expression, she looks more like a Madonna than a pagan goddess.
In guarding ourselves against lust, we must remember that God created not only our souls, but also our bodies, and that when he looked upon his creation "He saw that it was good." Because of this, we must avoid thinking of the human body as inherently evil or corrupting. Certainly, is is something capable of stirring powerful urges and emotions, and thus something which should not be mis-used. But there is not an inherent evil in bare shoulders, or indeed bare anything, to the extent that they are not used as sexual objects.

While we must guard against lust, in a society which does all too much to promote it and suffuses daily life with a discomforting mist of free floating sexuality, we must at the same time mind that we do not stray into the equal and opposite vice of prurience: that corruption of the mind which turns even that which is pure into an object of temptation and desire.

Thus, while good Catholic girls and women must avoid clothing and behavior that deliberately incites lust, good Catholic men must avoid falling into the trap of accepting the societal consensus that any sight of an attractive woman, attractively attired and made up, must necessarily inspire in any man who sees her either the desire to have sex with her, or at least the idea to think about doing so. If we accept this way of thinking about women and about beauty, we have already lost the battle against lust, and no degree of raving against bare soulders and long legs will mend the situation.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Extreme Home Makeover, Darwin edition

Usually an extreme makeover involves before and after pictures, but the before pictures were taken in the wrong light, and consequently are indistinguishable from a black cave. After rampaging all over my house for the past several weeks in search of a suitable photo of my living room pre-paint, I've finally given up. You'll just have to take my word for it that where now there is painty goodness, there was once a bland white box.

Presenting my living room, painted:

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

New: All Saints Academy Blog

Sometimes homeschoolers wish they could get advice from someone with vast experience and breadth of knowledge. Take heart! Here's a brand-new blog for you: All Saints Academy. Mary Hennessey is a Cincinnati homeschooler (and mother of a good friend of mine) with 20 years of accumulated homeschooling wisdom and advice and 15 more years of education ahead of her. She'll be writing about starting a co-op, the logistics of hiring an assistant teacher (who just happens to be my dear sister), and soon, homeschooling after surgery. Her blog is fresh from the oven (only two posts yet!) so be among the first to stop by and say hi. And tell her MrsDarwin sent you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Pitch for Jack

Jack is the same today.....shallow breathing, but not stopping as much as he was last night.

Jack has always loved baseball. Our parish had bracelets made up in June to sell at our festival for Make-A-Wish. They have the school colors and say "Got your back, Jack #4". That was Jack's uniform number in 2005 when he was diagnosed with cancer. He's always loved the Cincinnati Reds too. One of his wishes was to meet the Reds and throw out an opening pitch. He was supposed to do that tomorrow night. Over 300 members of our parish and lots of family friends have bought tickets for tomorrow night's game. Now, of course, he won't be able to do that. So his older sister and brother will do it for him instead. Suzy's parents are going to walk out on the field with them. The Reds asked Jay to write something that they could read to the crowd and asked for a picture of Jack to put up on the screen. I'm sitting here crying just thinking about how hard it's going to be tomorrow night to be there.

Thank you to everyone for your kind words and are all a witness to us of our Lord's neverending love....
My brother was wearing one of Jack's bracelets last time he visited. I checked with Barb at the time to see if there were enough left to offer them here, but they were mostly sold out.

The Reds are playing the Padres tomorrow night, if anyone is interested in tuning in.

Add Flavor, Fire & Water

Bernard of PaucaLux Ex Oriente offers instruction in the making of flavored vodka.

Update on Jack

From last night:
Mark just talked to Jay. Jack's breathing is becoming more shallow, and he is stopping sometimes briefly.
I'm assuming this means he's digressing, but he has surprised us before, so we'll have to wait and pray.

I was remembering that when Mark's mother was dying of cancer, they told us she had several months left and she died two days later. With Jack, they told us several days and it has been more than two weeks. No wonder doctors don't like speculating in these circumstances. God always has His own timeframe.
Thank you all so much for your love and prayers for Jack.

Book & Movie: The Big Sleep

The Darwin family (or at least those members of it who read above a second grade level) has been on a Chandler kick for the last couple weeks. Like many of our kicks, this one can be blamed on the Wall Street Journal -- since the drinks column frequently refers to various Chandler novels, and the a week ago they did a "Classics Reviewed" piece about The Big Sleep.

I read The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. MrsDarwin read those plus The Little Sister, Playback and the screenplay for Double Endemnity. And we bumped the movie version of The Big Sleep up to the top of our NetFlix queue.

I'd never read a Chandler novel before, so it was interesting to read the real thing, having only run into Chandler immitations before -- most noteably, of course, Tracer Bullet (who was known to have seven slugs in him: three lead and four bourbon).

I found Chandler a better writer than I would have expected going in. His style is eminantly parodiable, but taken on its own Chandler's style is very good at what it does -- though it's hard to encounter it without seeing it through the filter of all the immitations which have come since.

The Big Sleep is a surprisingly edgy book for having been put out in 1939. But then, the world was a pretty dark place in '39. The lid may have been tight on all that was not up to Hayes Code standards in Hollywood, but in the rest of the world millions of people were about to be fed into the gas chambers, gulags and battlefields of World War II, and the sense of impending darkness abounds in late thirties writing.

The plot centers around a rich general (now near death) who wants private detective to make a blackmail attempt against one of his daughters go away. The investigation soon leads to a peddler of high rent porn books; illegal gambling; several murders; the homosexual sub-culture; nude blackmail photos of the younger daughter and the missing (possibly murdered) husband of the elder daughter.

And yet the book is not at root sensational or exploitive. And main character Philip Marlowe (all Chandler's novels are written in the first person) has a certain basic set of morals which he sticks to, despite at times suffering rather hard for it.

Based on this, I was curious to see what the movie would be like. One of my all time favorite movies, The Third Man (screenplay by Graham Greene) was filmed in 1946 (the same as The Big Sleep) and though not diving as deeply into the underside of society, The Third Man is without question a dark meditation on human sin. It's an example of how despite stringent rules on what could be shown and discussed in a movie, you could make a powerful, adult film about the darkness that can inhabit the human soul.

Having seen The Big Sleep, I can't say I was similarly impressed. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart go through the motions, and much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book, but the result of cutting all the can't-be-shown-on-screen content out of the original story is actually a less moral narrative than the original book. The nearly inhuman desperation of many of the underworld characters (desperately trying to get that one break that will provide the money for a ticket out of town to a comfortable retreat somewhere) is lost, as their vices are hidden.

The bookstore that was at the center of the porn ring is still there, but it's never clear what it does. The younger daughter is still being threated with exposure of photos of her, but since they're just photos of her in a Chinese dress, you're not clear why. The missing husband isn't even a husband anymore, just a family hired tough. The gay lover of one of one of the early murder victims (who piles up his own body count seeking revenge and thus is instrumental in bringing about the conlusion) is left motive-less. And the ending is radically changed so that more of the low-lifes can be gunned down and Bogart and Bacall and end in each others arms, the smug survivors of a journey that wasn't that dark after all. No longer is the rich Sternwood family the symbol of all that can go wrong among the moneyed elite of a corrupt city. Instead, they're a great place for a detective to find a beautiful love interest.

One of the books we had out of the library included a number of Chandler's letters and essays. In one of the letters, he said wrote to someone who had complained to him that The Big Sleep was without moral structure at all that he thought the person was refering to the movie more than the book. The movie, he said, lacked the moral compass of the book. And I have to agree. Through a combination of poor adaptiation (key plot points are changed for no particular reason, and in ways that make little sense) and an unwillingness to show the darkness against which the story plays out, the movie lacks the basic, natural-law (or perhaps just virtuous pagan) sense which the book possesses.

If you want to see something that has more the feeling of a real Chandler novel, try Chinatown or LA Confidential. Both these R-rated noir tributes have more of a moral compass than the trimmed-for-content 1946 The Big Sleep.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Newest Addition to Our Family

The last time I bought a new computer was some ten years ago, as I was getting ready to head off to college: an Apple PowerBook which is still running fine, though not much use for much these days as it lacks USB and Ethernet ports. Since then, a combination of growing technical expertise and simple cheapness has led me to supply the family with a succession of used computers which I wiped, cleaned up, and installed new parts on to keep running long past their natural lifetimes.

But a combination of frustration with seldom having working sound and video, plus a need to have a newer machine (our newest non-company-owned computer was four years old) on which to do graphics work, combined with a recent price drop and functionality upgrade among Apple iMacs, sent us out to the Apple store last night to pick up a sparkling new 17in iMac with a humming little 2.0Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo dual core chip inside (welcome to 64 bit processing, Darwin clan).

Macs have changed a lot in the five years I spent wandering in the Windows and RedHad wilderness. The white thing is a sleek looking (MrsDarwin approves of the new accent to her living room) but it'll take a little getting used to after a succession of grey and beige boxes.

I don't know if I'll make the transition back to single button mousing -- I think I'll head out in the next couple days to buy a two button mouse to replace this one. But aside from that things seem to be going well. I can't imagine what people need with the 20in and 24in screen sizes. Maybe it's finally coming out of the CRT world, but the 17in widescreen looks huge to us right now.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy 9th Birthday, Jack!

When I first posted this, I was forgetting that it was an update from last night. Hence, today is Jack's ninth birthday. He made it!
Today, Jack is back to sleeping all the time. He doesn't completely wake up and he hasn't spoken, but they do feel that yesterday was a gift. Tomorrow is his 9th birthday.....they didn't expect him to live until that day. We will probably go over in the evening for a visit. John drew him a picture yesterday. It's Jesus with His arms stretched out wide in welcome....
Jack shares a birthday with Mary -- may her gracious intercession comfort his family.
Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin, Servants of God,
You offered many prayers for your own sick children.
We unite our prayers with yours for Jack's healing.
May God look favorably on your intercession and, in His Mercy, grant us our request.
May His will be done in all things.

Venerable Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Yo, ho, ho, and...

We've become fans of the Wall Street Journal's weekend drink column. And since income and stress have both been up lately, while the temperature has been down, it's been a perfect time to head down to the local Twin Liquors and discover new things.

This last weekend's column was about the Dark and Stormy, a drink originating in Bermuda and consisting of:

1.5oz Gosling's Black Seal Rum
4 to 6 oz Barritt's ginger beer
and ice

Now, usually when drinks specify a brand name, it's all just a marketing ploy. The WSJ column insisted that in this case, the brands (native to Bermuda) were essential. I can't tell you with respect to the Barritt's, since we weren't able to lay our hands on any. We used Reed's Jamaican Ginger Brew (not the uber ginger version, but the 'premium'). However, having acquired and sampled Black Seal Rum (featuring a rather charming dark-skinned seal on the label) I can tell you that it is worth seeking out -- and why not at only about $15/bottle?

Rum is one of those much abused drinks in modern America which is seldom found in anything like a pure form. Most rum these days is clear, and much of it is coconut flavored. This is an abomination. Such tropical monstrosities may be all very well for gaining entry to the oft-hollowed halls of one's local sorority girl, but they bear no resemblance to the drink which fueled the Royal Navy and the pirates of Caribbean and elsewhere -- you know, the ones who captured or sank ships, not the fairied-up escapees from some kids' ride at Disneyland.

Black Seal is good dark rum, and tastes like exactly what it is, a drink distilled from fermented molasses. It's wonderfully smooth, and the combination of that burnt molasses taste with the sweetness and tang of a good strong ginger ale (this is not a place of stuff like Verners) is quite good indeed.

After some experimentation, my own preferred mix is a handful of ice, about 6oz of ginger ale, and 2oz of rum. MrsDarwin prefers it a little lighter on the rum -- lest she be convinced to do anything inconsistent with her quiet and refined personality.

Serpentes on a Shippe!

The best movie synopsis ever: Serpentes on a Shippe! from Geoffrey Chaucer hath a Blog.
Al of Londoun ys aflame wyth newes of the grete entertaynment of 'Serpentes on a Shippe,' the which ys perfourmed ech daye by the menne of the gild of beekeeperes (and thus ys ycleped a 'b-movie'). Ich haue just nowe retourned from a trippe to see yt wyth Litel Lowys and Tommy Vske. Whan ich was ther, Tommy founde for me a copye of the romaunce in fyve chapteres on whiche the performaunce ys based, and Ich shal pooste yt heere for yower redyge. (This writer hath a verye good style - ich am reallye jealous. Oon daye, peraventure, ich shalle write sum thyng of Arthur; and yet, the matir of Troye hath alwey ben easier for me.)
Then Sir Neville and the men who with him fought did drawe togedir and Sir Neville seyde, ‘Litel it availeth us to fighte wyth thes snakes. By cause thei do not jouste as knightes do, nor do thei make fayre parlay whan thei aren captured, but rather in the nature of beestes thei bite the helle ovte of vs the whole tyme.’ And thus thei made retreat to behinde the walle.

Then ther was a crashinge grete and terribil, and the sound of the sayles droppinge on to the decke. In the winde the ship did founder. Vp staires, Sir Sean did checke wyth the mariners and finde hem all y-slawe by the snakes, and the snakes had occupyed the wheel of the shippe and the mappe of navigacioun. And Sir Sean cam doun and toold Sir Neville and Sir Neville was passinge wroth and seyde, ‘That ys ynogh. I haue hadde it wyth thes cursed by Seynt George snakes on this cursed by Seynt George shippe!’
H/T to Patrick.

A Small Miracle

Our Jack continues to be full of surprises...

When we got to their house with dinner, they were all excited because he had come out of the coma and was awake! He opened his eyes and looked at Suzy and she said, "I love you, Jack" and he answered, "I love you too". That's all he said, but what wonderful words to hear.

Amazing! What joy it brought! He looked at each one of us as we talked to him. He didn't answer us, but we could tell he could hear us. Then he went back to sleep. But he is squeezing their hands again and now we wait and see how long this will last.

It is an answer to prayer to see how accepting Suzy and Jay have become to the fact of Jack's approaching death. Jay was saying tonight what a great little intercessor we will all have in to my ears to hear him talking in such a spiritual way. God is good, indeed.

I know I have all you dear people to thank for your prayers. I know it has helped them in obtaining the grace to have this calm and peacefulness. What a gift you all are....the community of the Body of Christ.

God is so good to send this comfort to Jack's grieving family. Keep everyone in your prayers: Jack's birthday is Friday.

Venerable Louis and Zelie Martin, Servants of God,
You offered many prayers for your own sick children.
We unite our prayers with yours for Jack's healing.
May God look favorably on your intercession and, in His Mercy, grant us our request.
May His will be done in all things.

Venerable Louis and Zelie, pray for us!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Rambling post on family size

In early 2003, I was worn out. Darwin and I were barely scraping by, we lived in a small and excessively expensive one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, and we were trying to make do on one income so I could stay at home with Noogs. To top it off, I felt terrible -- achy, exhausted, sick.

Finally I decided to consult the doctor, but I knew the first question he would ask would be "Are you pregnant?" Of course I knew I wasn't, but I went into the lab and took a pregnancy test just so I could give him the negative result. That afternoon I called up the lab and asked for for the result.
"It's positive," said the nurse.
"Positive?" I croaked, once my heart started beating again.
"Is that bad news?" asked the concerned nurse.
"No... no...," I croaked. "It's just that I already have an eight-month-old."

And so, on Sept. 4, 2003, Julia was born. She hasn't changed much from the early days -- she's still sudden and prone to unexpected entrances and heart-stopping stunts -- but she's the best suprise I've ever had. Happy birthday to my favorite three-year-old!

And on the note of one child showing up hard on the heels of another, Bearing Blog had up a post recently about a woman who had 22 children, and I've been thinking about it all weekend.
Lucille Miller of Waseca, Minn., who bore 15 girls and seven boys and raised them on a farm with the help of her organizational skills and the buddy system, died Monday in Waseca. She was 83.

Miller was 17 when she had her first child and 43 when she had her last.

"We didn't intend to have this many children," she said in an April 17, 2000, Star Tribune article by Chuck Haga. "But it's been wonderful to have them and watch them grow. They're all individuals."
Lucille Miller is truly a good and holy example of extreme motherhood. May she rest in well-deserved peace.

Reading about Mrs. Miller's achievements, I realized: it's already too late for me to have 22 children. I started at 23, not 17, so she already had six years on me there. Plus she bore children at the rate of about one a year, and I've already skipped two years between Babs and baby. What gives me pause is realizing that had I emulated Mrs. Miller, I'd already have, at 27, nine children. Now there's a trip through the Total Perspective Vortex for you.

Now many days I feel overwhelmed with three children, though I wonder if that's less a matter of the number of children as of the fact that the older two are four and three, and rather boisterous. (In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that behind my back, my friends shake their heads and say, "Those Darwin girls... they just do whatever comes into their heads..." Actually, that's not even a suspicion, because someone told me that in front of my back.) I don't want 22 children, or twelve or eight. Some days I'm not sure I want more than the three I already have. And recently I feel it's not even productive to speculate on future future family size when the baby is only six months old. I want her to stay the baby for a while, with her amiable personality and little teeth popping out and sweet gurgles and wrinkled nose and careful sitting. Once this one is old enough to sneak a package of pasta into the bathroom and spread it around the floor (or perhaps more importantly, when Noogs is old enough to prevent her from doing such things), then I'll be able to think more clearly about adding the next Darwin girl.

On the other hand, I think it's kind of silly when people obsess over how hard it must be to raise a large family. (I wish I had a dollar for every time some stranger has said to me, "My, you have your hands full, don't you?") Children grow and change and mature and assist -- rarely is anyone raising eight two-year-olds. The popular conception of parenting this immense unit of five children is very different from the reality of raising five individuals who are Elizabeth and John and Anna and William and Nathanael, who all have different needs and gifts and abilities.

Though I have to admit I'm rather relieved that bearing 22 children isn't really an option for me...

Jack, yesterday evening

From last night:

Mark just talked to Jay on the phone. Jack is now having seizures, his eyes are fixed and dilated, and he is no longer responsive at all.....this is very close to the end. Please pray for a peaceful death...watching him have seizures is very difficult for Jay and Suzy. I'm crying just thinking about it. Please pray for their peace and comfort.

May the all-powerful Lord grant Jack a restful night and a peaceful death...Amen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Holding Hands

I did want to add that the nurse told Jay and Suzy that Jack is not in pain....she can tell by his facial expressions and the fact that his heartbeat and respiration are regular. He is peaceful and that is a blessing....a gift from our dear Lord. He is still responding some with his hands....he will still hold onto their hands.

It is so difficult though, to have him lose the ability to talk to them.

Newsflash: US Not Center of Vatican's World!

It is a standard complain of those who know much about science that mainstream media seldom understand what they're talking about when writing about science.

It is an even more common complaint of those who understand religion that the mainstream press is clueless when covering religion.

When these two topics meet, no wonder we find a journalistic trainwreck. Here's a particularly amusing piece on the pope's weekend of discussing evolution (so far as I can tell, this is a re-cut of a Routers story which has the Fr. Fessio quotes):

Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students spent a weekend pondering evolution without discussing controversies over intelligent design and creationism raging in the United States.
The three-day closed-door meeting at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome ended as planned without drawing any conclusions but the group plans to publish its discussion papers, said participant Father Joseph Fessio S.J.
Media speculation had said the debate might shift Vatican policy to embrace "intelligent design," which claims to prove scientifically that life could not have simply evolved, or even the "creationist" view that God created the world in six days.
"It wasn't that at all," Fessio, who is provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, said from Rome. The Pope's session with 39 former students was "a meeting of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme".
"We did not really speak much about intelligent design," said Fessio, whose Ignatius Press publishes the Pope's books in English. "In fact, that particular controversy did not arise."
Creationism -- the view that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- was "almost off the radar screen of the people in this group," he added. The Catholic Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally.
Fessio said Benedict took part in the discussions but said nothing different from previous public statements, in which he has recognised evolution as a scientific fact but argued that God ultimately created the world and all life in it.
I keep waiting for the media (and some Catholics for that matter) to realize how much of a non-issue American Protestant-style creationism is for Catholics. Still, after the media feeding frenzy that followed Schonborn's NY Times editorial, I was glad to see that the message that Pope Benedict and the assembled scholars were discussing the philophical implications and assumptions surrounding ounding evolution, not trying to engage in a scientific debate.

Jack in a coma

Jack is now in a coma. His heartrate and respiration are all right, but he is no longer waking up and talking. Last night, he was still responding to them and talking before they went to bed, but this morning he didn't wake up and when the hospice nurse came this afternoon, she told them that he is in a coma. He has been sleeping a lot, so at first they were hoping he was just sleeping longer than normal. Unfortunately, not.

Please pray.

You know you're a parent when...

...Amazon starts sending you interestingly assorted "Amazon Recommends" emails such as the one I got this morning which advised me to purchase Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and Umberto Eco's On Literature.

And to the credit of the money Amazon has poured into such customer activity predictive profiling, both of these are indeed books that I have considered buying at one time or another in the last year or so. (The money that must be spent simply to mimic having an intelligent book seller who knows your tastes...)

This concludes any tendency to cutesy parent blogging for the day.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Quick update on Jack

No word on Jack yet this this case, no news means no change. Everyone who visits with him is amazed at the peaceful calm that is about him. I know that that is a gift from our dear answer to all of our and your prayers.
I remember when Darwin was out with his father during his last days, and I was here waiting anxiously for news. It seemed that every time there was some new deterioration in his condition, the family would say their goodbyes and resign themselves, and then... nothing.

Every time I said a rosary for him, the Hail Mary took on new significance: "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." I began to notice all the references to the moment of death in the Liturgy of the Hours as well. No matter what else happens in our lives, the most important moment of all is the moment we leave it, the very last chance we have to turn toward or away from God. Waiting for news of Jack in his last days is a strong reminder that even though we can't choose how or when we die, we can choose something more important -- what happens afterwards.

Vatican Astronomer: Manufactured Controversy

I'm not sure if this was written with an active intention to distort, or simply by someone without much understanding of the topic, but I was very disappointed with the slant of this item from LifeSiteNews (via Catholic Exchange) about the new head of the Vatican Observatory:
The Vatican has appointed a Jesuit priest to head the Vatican Observatory, Argentine Fr. Jose Funes. The appointment follows the retirement of Fr. George Coyne, another Jesuit astronomer who had vehemently opposed the Catholic Church’s stand on materialist Darwinism.

Fr. Funes, speaking to Catholic News Service, the official news outlet of the US Bishops Conference, denied that Fr. Coyne had been removed by the Vatican for his opposition to Catholic teaching.... He did say however, that he would be restricting his own work to his field of expertise, which is disk galaxies and had no plans to make any statements on biology or Darwinian theory.
I suppose one of the side benefits of preistly celibacy is that the author was restrained from adding "It is unclear whether or not Fr. Coyne has stopped beating his wife" but the thought is clearly there.

Coyne has certainly kicked the creationist/intelligent design ant nest a few times, but to say that he "vehemently opposed the Catholic Church’s stand on materialist Darwinism" is patently false. The Church has a stand against materialism, which Coyne has vocally supported on a number of occasions, and the Church has no stand at all on the scientific issue of "Darwinism" or more properly: evolution. There are those who have felt that some of Coyne's philosophical/theological statements have bordered on process theology, and that would constitute a violation of Catholic teaching. But whether Fr. Coyne actually endorses such a position is far from clear, one certainly could not say that he does so vehemently.

All of which got me curious to see what the CNS had originally said in their article. The tone could hardly be more different:
ROME (CNS) -- The new director of the Vatican Observatory said it's important to distinguish between the scientific study of natural causes and the religious beliefs of faith.

At the same time, science can sometimes help people "arrive at a knowledge of God," said Argentine Jesuit Father Jose Funes....

Father Funes said he thought it would be an almost impossible mission to match the "wonderful work" of U.S. Jesuit Father George Coyne, 73, who was leaving as the observatory director after 26 years.

Father Funes dismissed speculation that Father Coyne had been forced out of the job because of his strong comments in support of evolution and criticism of the "intelligent design" movement.

"It's simply not true that this was the reason he left," Father Funes said. He said the appointment was a natural development after Father Coyne's long tenure and one of many personnel changes being made at the Vatican under the new pope.

As for his own views on evolution, Father Funes emphasized that he was an astronomer specializing in galaxies, not a biologist, and so did not plan to make statements about Darwinism and intelligent design.

He said the role of the observatory is first of all to "do good science in astronomy," and in this way favor the ongoing dialogue between faith and science.

Father Funes, who has taught an introductory course in astronomy at the University of Arizona, said he emphasizes to his students that science is about natural causes....

"I don't see any contradictions between science and religion. What I see are tensions. But it is healthy to have tensions in life. Sometimes tensions allow us to mature," he said.

Father Funes' specific field is nearby galaxies, which he described as galaxies "only" 50 million or so light years from Earth. It's part of an exciting area of astronomy, he said. Astronomers now estimate there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe, and some hypothesize more than one universe.

The discoveries about the universe certainly raise the possibility of life on other planets, he said.

"Even in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, we have 100 billion stars. It's possible some stars have planets similar to Earth, and that life could develop, could evolve -- it's OK with me to use the word 'evolution,'" he said.

The idea of discovering intelligent life elsewhere in the universe does not trouble Father Funes from a faith perspective.

"I don't see that this would pose a problem to theology or to our faith, because these creatures, or beings, or 'ETs' if you want, could also be creatures of God," he said.
A rather saner take on it all.