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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

This one's for you, Fidei

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

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

H/T to Matthew Lickona.

Taking it for granted

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

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

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

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

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

SCOTUS meets Global Warming

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

And They'll Know We Are Christians...

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

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

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

Our new delivery

Behold, our new baby:

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Skilled Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Don't argue English with Tolkien

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Peter Jackson says he's not directing The Hobbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Women to Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2006

No children, thanks, we're travelling

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

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

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

There are several issues with this statement.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2006

Comes the Phone Bank

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Congratulations are in order

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

German beer on the house tonight!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Christology 101

Deep thoughts at breakfast:

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thinking Globally, Whining Locally

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Well fancy that...

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

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ah those beautiful words...

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

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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's a small world after all...

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

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Trying to Survive

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

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

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

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

You can see "Trying to Survive" here.

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

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

Monday, November 06, 2006

Recentering at the Food Bank

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 03, 2006

Movie: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nietzsche Family Circus

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

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

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

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

The Family Circus has never made so much sense.

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

On the campaign trail

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

You think you know what hard work is?

One of my favorite Monty Python sketches!

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

The Urge to Create

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go create something already!

Kerry Stuck in Iraq

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

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

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

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