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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Uncommon Descent" Strikes Again

It seems that the folks over at Uncommon Descent are up their their usual games: first mis-quoting a piece in First Thing by Michael Liccione and then criticizing the words they have put into his mouth.

Dr. Liccione sets the record straight.

Whenever I run into Dembski's crew, it stikes me that with friends like this, truth hardly needs enemies...


DaveScott (one of the above mentioned Uncommon Descent folks) takes issue with Liccione's characterization below in the comments:
Luccione wrote: According to Arrington, I wrote that "agency cannot show up within the layers of scientific explanation, for to do so would invoke the rightly dreaded God of the gaps" (I have added the emphasis).

Arrington wrote: Liccione writes that agency cannot “show up within the layers of scientific explanation,” for to do so would invoke the “rightly dreaded” God of the gaps.

It appear[s] Liccione doesn't understand how quotation marks are used. Liccione put quotes around the word 'agency' and Arrington did not. Arrington DID NOT quote Liccione as using the word agency.
I apologize for quoting a mistake without following up on it. I'll admit that I generally don't bother to read Uncommon Descent, since the fact that they (indeed DaveScott specifically) banned me from commenting there because I disagreed (politely) with them didn't exactly impress me with their interest in open and honest discussion among Christians interested in science and philosophy.

Having apologized for perpetuating a mistake use of quotation marks, I would, however, say that Arrington significantly misrepresented Michael's original statement: "God as final cause cannot show up within the layers of scientific explanation, for to do so would invoke the rightly dreaded God of the gaps."

This seems to be the continuing blind-spot of ID advocates, that they reflexively make the substitution of "final cause" for "agency" and insist that since it is clearly possible for scientific investigations to point towards certain kinds of agency (specifically those with frequently observed physical manifestations) that therefore since God's design if a type of agency, it must be the case that one can scientificaly prove God's design.

Arrington may or may not have meant to grossly misrepresent Liccione's argument by substituting "agency" for "God as final cause" but regardless of his intention (and use or non use of quotation marks) he certainly made Liccione appear to be arguing a position he was not.

Here It Goes...

Blogger tells me that I am about to be forced to upgrade to 2.0 So if we go silent with technical difficulties for a while, don't hold it against us.

Looks like we're up and running. Now if only I can figure out how to invite MrsDarwin, lest she think this has become a No Girls club...

**Update 2**
Note that in a sudden move of Google/Darwin solidarity, we've moved to a single combined email address:

Since I'm Griping Today...

There's a pickup truck outside with a Texas Disabled Vet license plate. I suppose this should fill me with gratitude towards those who sacrifice for our country. But since the car also sports a "9-11 Was An Inside Job" bumper sticker and a truth fish eats Darwin fish medalion, I keep seeing it and thinking "Stupid flake."

Tis a Pity She's a HOA

One of the more commonly reviled elements of the Soviet combination of bloodthirsty dictatorship and soul-less bureauocracy was their habit of charging the families of those executed by the regime for the bullets used by the firing squad.

Equally galling, it seems to me, (though not equally serious, I will admit) is the practice of giving money to a home owners association which will in turn bully you and threaten to fine you if you don't follow some set of "community standards" that was drafted back when your neighborhood was built. It's one thing for people to harass you about your house. But paying them to do so just seems wrong.

I searched pretty hard to find a neighborhood without an HOA when we moved out to Texas, but alas, unless you move out onto land away from the suburbs, they seem to be everywhere here.

All this springs to mind because I had to go to the annual HOA meeting last night. If they don't have at least 10% of the homes represented, they have to hold another meeting. And this was already their second go-around. So I went, and listened to an hour and a half of wrangling where old people (only one other attendee looked under 50) with too much time and bitterness on their hands complained about how there were people with old cars and boats in their driveways.

Call me laissez-faire, but I don't believe any degree of mutual harassment will raise housing values in our neighborhood of ten-year-old 1400-2000 square foot homes when they are building brand new 3000+ square foot houses for under 200k not three miles away.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Time for a Classic SF Quiz...

I'm not sure if I've actually read any Hal Clement, but it seems I are one...

I am:
Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs)
A quiet and underrated master of "hard science" fiction who, among other things, foresaw integrated circuits back in the 1940s.

Which science fiction writer are you?

H/T Razib.

The Death of Bill

There are certain movies that the social conservative community loves to hate. Pretty much anything by Quentin Tarantino seems to fall in this category. Now, Tarantino has yet to make a movie that I'd want to let anyone under around 17 watch, but nonetheless I have to admit to thinking all of his movies that I've seen thus far are actually quite good.

After nearly a month of NetFlix making its daily bread from us without us actually getting around to watching much of anything, I sat down very late one night (after a MrsDarwin who had declared herself un-interested had gone to bed) last week to watch Kill Bill Volume 2.

I'd watched Volume 1 a year and a half ago, and enjoyed it. It was in some ways opposite in its content to Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction is a movie that contains far less explicit blood and gore than you get the impression that it does, but it is quite simply hard to watch. It's a race through some very dark places.

Kill Bill Volume 1, on the other hand, is generally pretty bright and cheerful, though at times the floor is literally awash in blood. Uma Thurman (aka The Bride, aka Beatrix Kiddo) wakes from a five year coma seeking revenge and does so in full samurai/martial arts movie splendor throughout. Classic revenge drama, against an offense sufficiently over-the-top that you have no problem at all sitting back to watch Uma leave a trail of bodies behind her.

Volume 2 quiets down considerably, and indeed (where it not for a 3-5 instances of language and one very icky moment with an eyeball) barely earns it R rating. While Vol 1 is boisterous and fun, the second half has a much more mature feel.

Part of the feeling of maturity, I believe, comes from the movie's central conceit of taking a Charlie's-Angels-meets-martial-arts-movie set of genre settings and taking it seriously. We discover that the turning-point moment for Uma Thurman's character was when she discovered that she was pregnant -- and realized that the international assassin scene was not where she wanted to bring up her child. (This comes through an fun girl-assassin on girl-assassin scene, with the pregnancy test being checked at gun point. "Good luck with that. Congratulations." says the other assassin, as they mutually back down.)

It is the Uma Thurman character's motherhood (through the first 3/4 of the two movies she thinks she if avenging, among other things, the murder of her unborn child -- only discovering near the end that Bill has been raising her daughter as his own) that ultimately give the pair of movies a human, indeed almost warm finish. For all that it's her unusual characteristics that make the character the subject of a two volume action movie (assassin, martial arts powerhouse, looking like Uma Thurman) it's the character's most universal trait, her motherhood and fierce desire to protect her daughter (from the world and from her own past) that make the character and the movie likeable.

And what of Bill? Well, he had it coming to him. That's all I'm saying.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Vocational School vs. Liberal Education

A couple days ago, I wrote about Murray's first or three articles on education, in which he discussed the limited good which he believes education can do those at the bottom end of the intelligence curve.

This time I'd like to address his second article, which dealt with the middle segment of the intelligence curve: those who are average.
Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations... But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off....

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges... enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104....

No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living.... Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school.... They, too, need to learn to make a living--and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today's college campuses--probably a majority of them--are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide....
Some of this ties in with complaints I've had ever since I was in college.

I knew when I started college that I wanted to work in the corporate and small business worlds. And yet, I never even considered taking a Business or Marketing degree. There is a lot, I believe, you can learn in a class format about these topics. But there's not four years worth of stuff to learn.

What response you believe should be taken to this situation probably depends upon your level of idealism. Should all college students be pushed to take at least some liberal arts and sciences courses during their time at college, or should college for those who are primarily looking for employment credentials be shortened down to a 1-2 year process with an internship thrown in for good measure?

Personally, I'm a big believe that virtually everyone can and should acquire the most basic rudiments of a college level understanding of science, mathematics, philosophy/logic and Western Culture. However, one must also acknowledge the reality that at just about all colleges, the sort of basic courses which are used for non-majors are not only un-inspiring but downright dreadful. One gets little real understanding of Western Culture out of "Western Civ. I" nor much understanding of science from "General Science of non-Majors".

Clearly, no amount of educational theorizing will get us the perfect world that we so demonstrably do not have. And though I hope (though can't prove) that people of "average intelligence" are more capable of learning than Murray suggests, I'm certainly willing to cede that by the time people reach college age they are pretty set in their ways, and many simply do not want an extensive education. Taking that as a given, it seems reasonable to seek alternatives to the time and expense of a four year college education for those who are really looking for something rather different.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Catholic Culture Meme

Working through the memes... This is one that Julie D. tagged us with a week or so ago.

Name a Catholic book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies:
I can't think of one that we've given over and over again, but recently we gave friends copies of The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living and Swimming with Scapulars.

Name a work of religious art you'd like to live with:

This is a statue of Mary from Matyas Templom (St. Matthais Church) in Budapest.

Name your favorite Catholic artist:
Fra Angelico

Name a work of Catholic fiction which has penetrated your real life:
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Name your favorite Catholic Musicians - male & female:
Musicians who are Catholic or who make Catholic music? Here's a bunch of Catholic guys I like: Easter Rising, a group of seminarians (including my brothers, natch) who play some rockin' Irish fare.

Name your favorite musical:
Kiss Me, Kate

Name a punch line that always makes you laugh:
"What'd you do with that, stick it in your snood?" -- from White Christmas, OR
"It goes to eleven!" -- from This is Spinal Tap

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Har har...

Via commenter Slick:
How Does A Catholic Homeschooler Change A Lightbulb?
First, mom checks three books on electricity out of the library
then the kids make models of light bulbs, read a biography of Thomas
Edison, and write a brief narration. Second, the Big Book of Saints is
consulted to see whom are the patron saints of light and/or electricity and
the kids argue over pronounciation of the saints' names.
Next, everyone studies the history of lighting methods, wrapping up
with dipping their own candles which brings to mind the Feast of St. Blaise
and the blessing of the neck with twin candles held by the local parish
priest which is coming up on Feb 3rd. This reminds everyone that Saint
Valentine's Day is less than two weeks after that!
Everyone takes a trip to the store where they compare types of
light bulbs as well as prices and figure out how much change they'll
get if they buy two bulbs for $1.99 and pay with a five dollar bill.
On the way home, a discussion develops over the history of money and also
Abraham Lincoln, as his picture is on the five dollar bill. This brings to
mind President's Day in which brings up the discussion of holidays in which
the older children tell the younger that is is really a Catholic word,
Finally, after building a homemade ladder out of branches dragged from
the woods, a quick prayer is said, and the light bulb is installed.
And there is light...! Mom thanks their Guardian Angels that no one got
electrocuted and St. Scholastica for her daily intercession and very
appreciated patronage of which should could not do without. (St.
Scholastica's Feast Day is Feb 10th.)

Starting to Meme

We've recently been tagged on several memes, and now it's time to tackle them and post them.

Scott Carson of An Examined Life started this one: Who are the five Catholic (or Christian) bloggers whom you would most like to meet in person, but have not (yet)?

Darwin probably has his own list, but here's mine, in no particular order.
1. Julie D.
2. C and DMinor
3. Dorian
4. Matthew Lickona
5. The set of Ohio bloggers: Fr. Fox, Rich Leonardi, Jay Anderson, Scott Carson

That last may be cheating, but as we plan to take a trip to Ohio in May and travel around the state a bit, perhaps we'll be fortunate enough to put these fine gentlemen on the list of Catholic bloggers we've met:

1. Jen

All of the above may consider themselves tagged, if they so desire.

UPDATE from Darwin:

Just tossing a few more in from my perspective (though not in disagreement with my wife's picks:

Go shooting with Fidei.

Sit around girl watching with Rick.

Drink a beer with Tex.

Play a game of Go with Slick.

Talk with Scott Carson and (straying outside the Catholic fold) Razib (though not necessarily at the same time -- and perhaps it would work better to include Razib in the girl watching).

Me and the tabloids

CMinor has up a piece about "Our Lady of the Wal-Mart" (via Man with Black Hat), a rather aggressively ugly painting that thinks it's clever in depicting Angelina Jolie hovering Madonna-like over the aisles of Wal-Mart, Cambodian orphans filling in for cherubs. Perhaps Americans are thirsting for role models, but I can't really see Ms. Jolie as a latter-day Mother Teresa simply because she has adopted a child. Unsung families all over the country are adoptive parents, and many more long to be but don't have Hollywood money to put their applications on the fast track.

I'm amused by the fascination with the absolutely mundane aspects of the lives of the rich and photogenic. Standing in line at the grocery store is worse than attending a church function for speculation about who's pregnant, who's not, or snide remarks about who hasn't lost her baby weight. "Friends worry Brit's PREGNANT!" "Jen Longs for a Baby!" "Julia Pregnant AGAIN!" How am I supposed to get excited about the natal travails of the stars? I have three children; no one cares. My first two are sixteen months apart, and there were no paparazzi shadowing me to comment on my tell-tale baby bulge. Guess what? Real women get pregnant, sometimes less than a year after a previous pregnancy. We battle the baby bulge, and it's not a big deal, really. Why should it be news that Katie's stomach is slightly rounded? That's life, guys. Get a sense of perspective. Sure, it's work to have children, but it's not unusual to have children. If the only suffering required to be canonized is going through labor unanesthetized, start checking Enquirer for photos of me up in the Celestial Rose. I'll be the one with the baby bulge.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Murray on Educating The Bottom 50%

Bell Curve author Charles Murray is not stranger to controversy, so it's perhaps unsurprising that his three part series on education in the Wall Street Journal last week featured much that could inspire spirited discussion. The three articles discussed the problems involved in educating bottom of the intelligence curve, the middle and the "best and the brightest" respectively.

Some of what he had to say I thought was very good, and some I found myself disagreeing with rather strongly. There's much of interest to discuss in the three articles, so in this piece I'm going to start with the first and probably most controversial piece. He says in part:

Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited.... Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort.... [S]he still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that....

Some say that the public schools are so awful that there is huge room for improvement in academic performance just by improving education. There are two problems with that position. The first is that the numbers used to indict the public schools are missing a crucial component. For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95....

The second problem with the argument that education can be vastly improved is the false assumption that educators already know how to educate everyone.... The widely held image of a golden age of American education when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three Rs is a myth. If we confine the discussion to children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution..., the overall trend of the 20th century was one of slow, hard-won improvement. A detailed review of this evidence, never challenged with data, was also part of "The Bell Curve."

I have very mixed reactions to this.

On the one hand, I appreciate the effort to be realist about the fact that people have finite abilities. We all understand that despite the inspiring talk that gets tossed around about "You could be anything: an ballerina, a basketball player, a famous scientist, a great writer, the president, anything you work hard enough to do" that is sometimes tossed around by educators, it is simply the fact that some people possess more or less talent in certain areas than others. Will power and training (in addition to certain basic prerequisites) are usually enough to allow you to achieve mediocrity in a chosen field. But talent as well as effort is generally required to achieve anything like greatness.

However, it does seem to me that his estimation of what the bottom half of the IQ curve is capable of is terribly pessimistic. I'm sure the degree of nature vs. nurture that goes into intelligence is something much debated by scientists in the relevent fields. I am not an expert in any of those fields, and so perhaps I overstep, but based on experience and intuition, it seems hard to believe a 30-40% of the human population is physically incapable (in some neurological sense) of developing good math, reading comprehension and writing skills.

What seems more likely to me is that one's educational attainment limits are a mixture of inborn, physical traits and strength based on very early experiences. By analogy, I would imagine that our US middle class population in 2007 has far less physical strength and endurance, in general, than the US population of 200 years ago. Most us do not perform daily hard physical labor from a very young age, whereas the primarily agrarian population of 1807 did. And although it's certainly possible to build fitness through conscious efforts to get exercise later in life, I would imagine that someone who starts working on building his strength and endurance at 16, much less at 30, will never achieve the degree of strength and endurance of someone who regularly exercised and worked hard from early childhood.

Similarly, it wouldn't surprise me if people who are not introduce to complex verbal and abstract thinking at a very young age find it much harder to learn such things (though any amount of effort) later in life. It may well be that much of this nurture-based formation takes place very, very young, perhaps before by 5 or 6, and that after that one's abilities are more or less within a fixed range. Or perhaps the age at which one's mental abilites (not knowledge, but ability to aquire certain types of knowledge or make certain uses of it) settles somewhat later. I'm virtually certain that by 13 or 14 the die is pretty well cast.

I sympathize with his desire to keep standards and expectations reasonable, but I have a hard time believing that humanity is quite as dim a lot as he seems convinced.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Little Libertarian on the Prairie

Sometimes when you come back as an adult to a story you read as a child, you find whole levels to it that slipped entirely past you before. One of the things that has struck me as we've been reading the Little House books to the girls (they're still on the young side, but how can one resist a series about lots of sisters given our family composition) is the grounding in a Christian yet very libertarian view of the world and our place in it.

Laura Ingalls-Wilder's daughter Rose Wilder-Lane was an prominent spokesman of the Libertarian movement in the '30s and '40s, and provided (though to what extent it's unclear) a certain amount of guidance and editing to her mother as she wrote the Little House books.

This struck me with particular force last week when (with a bit of free time during the ice storm) I re-read The Long Winter. Near the beginning (in late summer), Laura and Pa come upon a muskrat nest, and Pa, noting that he's never seen such a thickly built muskrat nest, says that there must be a hard winter coming: animals like muskrats always know.

How do they know, asks the 14-year-old Laura.

I suppose God must tell them somehow, is Pa's reply.

If God tells the muskrats so they can keep safe during the winter, why doesn't he tell people, Laura asks.

Pa's explanation is that people are free and independent. They can build any kind of house they want. And so if they build a house that can't withstand the winter, it's their own responsibility. The muskrat, on the other hand, has no choice in how to build his house. Muskrats don't have freedom, and so they need God to tell them if they need a warmer house that year.

This kind of thought about free will and personal responsibility is sprinkled plentifully (though moderately subtly) throughout the Little House books. Not bad reading for bringing up young conservative Americans, and not (I think) out of an explicit desire to evangelize the young to a point of view so much as because the books are a good distillation of a very freedom and independence oriented period in our history.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I am Woman, see me run!

Well, gentle readers, it starts. Hillary Clinton has just announced her candidacy for the 2008 presidential elections:

NEW YORK -- Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton embarked on a widely anticipated campaign for the White House on Saturday, a former first lady intent on becoming the first female president.

"I'm in and I'm in to win,'' she said on her Web site, announcing that she planned to form an exploratory committee.

...Ms. Clinton, who was re-elected to a second term last November, said she will spend the next two years "doing everything in my power to limit the damage George W. Bush can do. But only a new president will be able to undo Bush's mistakes and restore our hope and optimism.''

In a defiant statement -- and a nod to questions about her electability -- Ms. Clinton said: "I have never been afraid to stand up for what I believe in or to face down the Republican machine. After nearly $70 million spent against my campaigns in New York and two landslide wins, I can say I know how Washington Republicans think, how they operate, and how to beat them.''

If this doesn't shake up the GOP but fast and galvanize the base, I don't know what will. Love her or hate her, you have to hand it to Hillary -- she has the knack for igniting strong passions in voters. That's more than you could say for Bob Dole.

I don't know that we have much of a liberal readership, but can anyone answer: If you're a serious liberal, do the Democratic front-runners truly seem like candidates to get excited about? Barack Obama, Hillary, John Edwards -- these seem like gimmick candidacies. It's as if the Republicans were trying to run Schwartzenegger nationally. He's been kinda successful in California (though even the Gubernator can't lick the unions out there) but he doesn't seem to have real ideas and true national scope. He's a media personality, elected in a media state. He will ever be known as an action star. And I think Hillary is going to have a hard time shaking off the eight years she already spent in the White House. Remember HillaryCare?

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Fear of Hell Meme

Physicist (and atheist) Steven Weinberg wrote a review of Dawkin's The God Delusion for The Times, about which much of interest might be said. The particular section that struck me at the moment, however, dealt with the question (often a perplexing one to convinced unbelievers) of why religious belief is so persistant:
In the unkindest cut of all, Dawkins even argues that the persistence of belief in God is itself an outcome of natural selection – acting perhaps on our genes, as argued by Dean Hamer in The God Gene, but more certainly on our “memes”, the bundles of cultural beliefs and attitudes that in a Darwinian though non-biological way tend to be passed on from generation to generation. It is not that the meme helps the believer or the believer’s genes to survive; it is the meme itself that by its nature tends to survive.

For instance, the persistence of belief in a particular religion is naturally aided if that religion teaches that God punishes disbelief. Such a religion tends to survive if the threatened punishment is sufficiently awful. In contrast, a religion would have trouble keeping converts in line if it taught that infidels are subject after death to only a brief spell of mild discomfort, after which they join the faithful in eternal bliss. So it is natural that in traditional Christianity and Islam, disbelief became the ultimate crime, and Hell the ultimate torture chamber.
Now, goodness knows I'm sure that anyone who has spent much reading work by materialists has heard this argument before. And there are definately some elements to the "meme" theory which seem to have explanatory power. Other elements, however, strike me as rather lacking.

It seems that one of the primary appeals of the "meme" concept (as exemplified in the above quote) is that it provides an handy explanation of why other people believe things contrary to what the speaker believes to be the truth. Thus, when Dawkins calls religion a "mental virus", he is explaining away its existence by stating that the reproductive powers of the meme (threatening its host mind with damnation if they don't believe and pass on the belief to others) outweight both the meme's falsehood and its alleged detrimental effects upon the host mind.

Similarly, Weinberg above theorizes that if a religion threatens sufficiently bad consequences for unbelief, mostly people will simply believe it rather than risk the consequences. I think this glosses over what is for most people the main criteria for whether or not they believe something: Whether the belief fits with reality as they see and feel it.

Convinced materialists who try to use meme theory to explain religion tend to weight that factor in belief selection pretty lightly, since from their point of view religious belief seems to bear no relation to reality. And yet, if the oft-cited church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster were to start threatening unimaginably horrible tortures to be inflicted upon all those who do not believe in the noodliness of their deity, they wouldn't find their membership increasing one bit. That's because, the vast majority of people (except for a group of atheists so tone deaf to any kind of supernatural beliefs that they all seem equally silly) the claims about the Flying Spaghetti Monster do not seem to bear any relation to reality, while the claims of the historic monotheistic religions do, to varrying extents.

Thus, it seems misplaced to me to cite the degree to which non-believers are predicted to suffer for their non-belief as a primary factor in the spread or persistence of religion.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wisdom of the East

One of the things that's been striking me reading upon Japanese history and culture is surprise that Bhuddist/Shinto/neo-Confucian philosophy doesn't seem like a more appealing alternative to Christianity and the Western intellectual tradition. One hears so much about "wisdom of the East" that I expected to find some very compelling alternate ways of thinking of things.

Now admittedly, I'm coming from a very Western set of assumptions. Individuality, rationality, empiricism, etc. are very important to me. And they don't necessarily have a lot of place in the traditions of Japan. It's not a howling wilderness, to be sure. There's some stuff there of great aesthetic appeal, and although I don't find the communalistic and fatalistic elements of their traditions appealing, I think there are some interesting things to be learned from the emphasis on balance found in the culture as a whole and in past-times such as Go.

There are some books that have been recommended to me specifically on Japanese aesthetics and thought that I haven't got to yet, so maybe there's still more to find. But overall, I've got to admit that I keep finding myself to be terribly, terribly glad that I live in modern America rather than feudal Japan.

In comparison, while there are many things I'm glad of (from modern food preparation to anti-biotics and the computer I'm writing on now) about modern society, I don't get nearly the sense of relief at not being from that place and time when reading about the ancient Greco-Roman world or about Europe during the last two millenia. (Not to say that I wish I'd lived in the past. I'm glad enough to be where and when I am. But I don't get the sense of profound relief not to be living in that time when reading about the history of Europe that I do when reading about the history of Japan.)

New blog to watch

There's a new Central Texas Catholic in the St. Blogosphere: Literacy-Chic, who writes Words, Words. Here's how she describes herself:
Read it "Literacy chick" or "Literacy chic"; I am a female Ph.D. student who likes to think about literacy and its affect on the interior life of the individual's mind. Does literacy affect consciousness? More importantly, do people think that literacy affects consciousness? I am hoping this mode of lit crit will become chic--but not before I publish on it! Teetering on the brink of 30, I am a proud wife, mother, and convert with a capital "C" (for Catholic). I have been a mother and a wife for 10yrs, Ph.D. student for 5. I was a big sister for even longer. Multi-tasking with little people around is second-nature to me, though not without its challenges. I have seen how feminists theorize the role of "mother" and haven't found theoretical space for "me." But I don't need theory to support what I do from day-to-day, though it can be fun. I am a Catholic academic. As there seem to be few acceptable venues for discussion of faith and academic life, some theorizing about these two may surface. As an enthusiastic practicing Catholic who is not happy with her current parish home, and who likes difficult theology, I will certainly have Catholic-happy posts. Do with them as you will.
She was kind enough to link to us in this post on motherhood:
We have a rather unhealthy dichotomy in our contemporary conception of motherhood--a word that good feminists would avoid because it connotes an identity rather than an act--"working mother" is set in opposition to "stay-at-home mom." These terms are interesting in themselves, as "mother" lends more of an air of seriousness to the former situation than the less formal "mom." Hmmmm. . . Of course, working part-time in order to parent also connotes certain personal and financial sacrifices for family. I am aware of a married couple who divorced due to their conflict over whose career was more important. No children without compromise! For me, academia, perhaps grad school in particular! offers a reasonable compromise between these competing versions of motherhood. And dual academic careers are ideal.
I feel I ought to start compiling a list of Catholic bloggers in Central Texas -- the ranks are swelling...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Inventing Modernity in Japan

In my free time lately (ha!) I've been reading up about Japanese history. It's not anything I'd ever learned much about. (I have an embarrassing memory of when the father of one of my grade school friends introduced us all to business visitor from Japan. The fellow commented, at one point, on how little most Americans know about Japan and said: "Can you name four Japanese cities?" We cheerfully piped up: "Well, there's Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and... We don't know any more." Awkward silence followed...)

However, lately between learning Go and watching a certain amount of anime, I kept running into questions: What was the Heian period? What was the Shogunate and when was it? Why was the visit of Admiral Perry such a watershed experience? What exactly was going on with the 250 year period of hiding for Christians in Japan?

So I picked up a couple books at the library, none of which I've actually been able to read all of yet, but the combination of bits has started to sketch things out.

Of the books I've read bits of so far, I'd recommend Inventing Japan by Ian Buruma. It's an at times rather opinionated history of the period from the end of the Shogunate (explanation to follow) circa 1860 to 1964. It's a short, clear, well written book, and so long as one's comfortable dealing with a source which clearly has an editorial angle, it's a good read on the period. The more general books that I found covering the whole history of the Japan were less opinionated, but also less distinctive.

The interesting aspect of the history of Japan is its continuing relationship with the outside world and (most recently) the West. The recorded history of Japan stretches back roughly 1500 years. It's plight for the first 1600 years of that period was generally be to born by civil war amount a large number of feudal nobility. The samurai warrior class made up an unusually large percentage of the population (around seven percent) in part because they were in general a much more austere warrior class than many of their Western counterparts from the same period. The emperor existed throughout this period, but the central government lacked much real power of the fuedal warlords, and generally it was the emperor's retainers or regents rather than the emperor himself who exercised what power it did have.

Around 1600, as the pressure of Western visitors, missionaries and technology were starting to make real changes in Japanese society, a single warlord finally succeeded in uniting Japan under his rule and set himself up as the first of a hereditary house of shoguns, a shogun behind a regent or protector ruling in the name of the emperor. The first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, established a strict set of laws designed to halt contact with the west and freeze Japan at a stage of historical development which would allow the old ways of life (including rule and honorable combat by the samurai class) to remain undisturbed. Western traders were banned from the country. Christianity was outlawed and Christians were ruthlessly persecuted. (All citizens were required to register at their local Buddhist temple and demonstrate their rejection of Christianity by treading on pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.) Firearms and other modern forms of warfare were frowned upon. Foreign travel was banned, and shipwrecked foreign sailors were to be killed before they escaped the waves.

This reign lasted for 250 years, though in the later years things became increasingly restive. In 1853 when the American Admiral Matthew Perry sailed into Edo (the imperial city) bay with five modern American steam ships with long range naval guns and a message for the emperor from President Millard Fillmore, the period of isolation came to an abrupt halt. A nation very conscious of power and status suddenly realized that the self imposed isolation born of their conviction of national purity and superiority had left the centuries behind the rest of the world.

In the following fifty years, Japan attempted to build a modern nation and economy on the fast track. Embassies were sent to Europe and America to study industries and political institutions. A national government was formed, and new constitution providing for something resembling a modern parliamentary democracy (though one ruled by a divine emperor) was drafted, a national public school system was founded, and industries sprang up overnight. In a move that should perhaps have set off warning bells, the Japanese took Prussia and the unification of Germany as their model for a modern yet orderly and hierarchical modern nation.

What resulted was an odd blend of feudalism, imperialism, and hyper-modernism -- perhaps inevitable in trying to build an economy, polity and culture quickly in a desire to "catch up" with wholly different nations. In some ways, Japan is perhaps still struggling with reconciling many of the Western cultural trappings that it desires to emulate with its own cultural roots.

It's a fascinating history to read about, especially as we grapple with questions of whether democracy can be planted in the as yet infertile ground of the Middle East.

In Which Darwins Are Completely Surrounded by Snow

The rest of the country may be used to this sort of thing, but a quarter inch of ice on the streets from a night of freezing and snow currently coming down pretty steadily has pretty much brought our corner of Central Texas to a standstill.

This has plusses and minusses. On the one hand, I'm ice-bound for the day, effectively absolved of any duty to report anywhere in particular for work. On the other hand, I work enough from home as it is that I can't really tell myself that this means I don't have to work. So I'm trying to plug away through at least some hours of work while the kids bounce off the walls. (They played in the cold for a while, but eventually we got cold looking at them and brought them in.)

But here's hoping things settle out in the afternoon to a point where I can settle down with a warm drink and a clear conscience to write a long substantive post.

In the mean time, I guess I should just be glad that we have the benefit of modern conveniences, so as not to end up like a Jack London character.

Friday, January 12, 2007

In Search of Coffee Liqueur

It's been one of those weeks. The kind of week that involves 12+ hour work days, large clients threatening to walk without paying, water pouring down from your ceiling fan, and the amount of energy possessed by each member of the family being inversely proportional to her age.

So in the evening I decided to obey the urge I had felt all week to go find a good bottle of coffee liqueur. I can't say why the need came upon me all of a sudden. I haven't had coffee liqueur around for years. But the urge was there, and something had to be done about it.

In the end, I picked up two bottles: a full size of Patron Cafe XO (which I'd heard good things about) and a small one of Kahlua, which I got for comparison.

You never know if these things are going to be any good, so of course my first duty was to perform some rigorous taste tests so that no one else would get hurt if one of these turned out to be dangerous. (Or as Pooh feared with the pot of honey, to have cheese at the bottom.)

Patron Cafe XO is a tequila-based coffee liqueur. Now, I don't know what you think of tequila. I must confess that in general I don't think of it at all. Tequila is not something I would have thought of in combination with coffee. But some time back I'd read somewhere or other that it was great stuff. It is. At 35% ABV Patron Cafe is still quite smooth. There's perhaps a very, very slight sweetness to it, but it's generally very smooth with a good coffee taste to it. This is a coffee liqueur for brandy and whiskey drinkers. Nothing syrupy here.

Kahlua sports only 20% alcohol, and I could swear it must fill in the other 15% with sugar. The texture is syrupy, and the lingering taste of sweet with a slight underlying sourness like low grade coffee. There's no burn to it, for those who don't like their alcohol to taste like alcohol. But it's clearly not meant to be drunk straight. I think the sweetness level is pretty much calibrated for being mixed as a minority ingredient in creamy frozen drinks.

Still, coffee liqueur is intended primarily for mixing, so we pulled out the blender and the handy recipe card that came with the Cafe XO. The "XO Cafe Iced Affair" (there's a girly drink title if I ever saw one) called for coffee ice cream (we used Haagen Dazs), 1.5oz Cafe XO and a small amount of very finely ground coffee. Blend, then pour into glasses.

This met with general approval. It was a good, cold creamy drink for MrsDarwin, and it definitely was coffee-ish enough to meet with my own approval. A strong recommendation.

I'm of two minds whether it's time to branch out into more liqueurs. I'm moderately fond of Benedictine, though sometimes I'm in the mood for something less sweet and mix it 1:3 with Cognac. Next up might be Chartreuse, another liqueur with a long monastic heritage (including suffering under anti-clerical laws in France), but I haven't yet talked myself into shelling out at least $45 for a bottle of something I've never tried before, and which I can't seem to find terribly clear descriptions of. And then there is, of course, the ever-elusive (and illegal) absinthe...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Christians, Essentialism and Science

Scott Carson of (the newly moved) Examined Life has an outstanding post up about whether it is still possible for Christians to base their moral philosophy on essentiallism (the idea that there are "natures" to things such as "human nature") in light of modern science.

De-Lurk already!

They tell me it's De-Lurking Week.... So, here's some random food for comments.

Due to Blogger being a pain with those of us who can't convert to the new format, I haven't been able to get in and finish a post I saved as a draft a week ago. Now I've forgotten where I was going with this first sentence:
Darwin and I have reactionary tendencies, most of which have been tempered enough to allow us a moderately up-to-date fashion ethic and keep us from being bores at parties.
Any suggestions?

And now, a word from our sponsor:

Although at ten months and 14 lbs. 11 oz. she's not even on the charts, she's the most good-natured, active little thing, and keeps her composure even when being hauled down stairs by her older sisters. And she definitely had NOTHING to do with the water pouring from the ceiling yesterday, as she slept through the whole ruckus.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I'll be Home for Lunch-time...

New ceiling fan and light: $199

Re-dry-walling the living room ceiling: $399

Pouring half your bath out on the upstairs bathroom floor: a spanking and a long time-out

Coming home for lunch to find water pouring down from the living room ceiling: priceless

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I got a fever...

For Christmas, Darwin's sister gave him a mix CD, upon which was the song "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult. As I was listening to it, all I could think was, "I gotta have more cowbell!"

The commenters on YouTube are right: is Jimmy Fallon good for anything but laughing through a sketch?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Outsourcing motherhood

Jennifer, a strong advocate for stay-at-home mothering, sends me this article from the WSJ Online about Susan Whiting, a 50-year-old single CEO who recently adopted twins.
Being a CEO didn't quell her wish for a child, however, and she began considering adoption. She tracked down and talked to other single parents who had adopted children. She also spoke to her mother, sisters, brother and some cousins, with whom she is very close. "I was working very hard and had to think about the implications of adopting as a single working woman. I knew I was going to need a close support system," she says.

She went ahead and started the process, and six years later she learned she would be adopting twin babies, a girl and boy, "a special blessing" she says "because they have each other." She had an interim management team take charge at Nielsen the day the twins were born and took a six-week maternity leave.

More than many working parents, she can afford a lot of help, including a live-in baby nurse. Still she says she has a "new appreciation" of employees who juggle work and family. "I thought I was busy before but this is a new definition," she says.

She limits breakfast meetings so she can be at home to feed her babies their morning bottles, and she returns home in time to give them their baths. She also tries to limit evening business events or schedules them after 7:30 when her children are usually asleep.

At work, she is delegating more and choosing between "what I can do and have to do," she says. But she stays connected to her staff 24/7. Over the holidays, which she spent with her family in Lake Geneva, Wis., where she was raised, she kept her BlackBerry on throughout.

She doesn't apologize for wanting to keep working. "It's a great time to be involved in a lot of initiatives I launched," she says.
Leaving aside the problematic aspects of expecting your newborn twins to provide support and companionship to each other because mommy's too busy working to be there, this seems to me a prime example of the trend of "outsourcing" motherhood. That's basically what women are doing when they put their kids into nine and ten hours a day of daycare or nannying. By giving up that much of your child's day to day existence, mothers are, for all intents and purposes, abdicating their responsibility over their child's personal and moral development in favor of whatever personal code the caregiver follows. What's most important to a person will come out in their interactions with others, and you can't expect that a childcare worker is not going to act on whatever values she holds to be true, whether it's Catholic teaching or a "dog-eat-dog" philosophy. And young children, who tend to accept what they are told by adults, and will also follow examples, soak that up.

I don't know why any woman who prizes her intelligence and education would abdicate her earliest and best chance to pass on her values and beliefs to her children. I don't see staying at home with my children as a waste of my education and talents, but rather as a chance to draw on that education to teach my daughters how to reason, how to make moral decisions, how to think well. How can I expect my children to accept and retain my religious beliefs if I don't take primary responsibility for passing them on?

There's no denying that staying at home with children can be a lonely and thankless job. That's why we have Jennifer to thank for creating Suburban CEO, a new site designed to help stay-at-home mothers maintain their sanity and find support from like-minded women. She offers some sharp insights on why it's so hard to be a stay-at-home mother today -- her analysis of the "Five Missing Pieces" is spot-on. Anyone who stays home with her children or is considering doing so should visit this site. After all, staying at home with our children is a great way to be involved with a lot of the initiatives we've launched, isn't it?

A Life with Guarantees

The new Democratic majority congress opens its first session today. One of the big questions since the election has been: aside from not being Republicans, how will the new majority define themselves and seek to drive change at a national level. Beyond some tactical priorities such as increasing the minimum wage and trying to pass price controls on prescription drugs, the new majority does not come with a grand strategic vision the way the Contract With America crew did twelve years ago. (Sadly, they didn't get that much of the grand strategic vision implemented, but they did have one.)

The other day I was listening to NPR, and a Democratic strategist was opining that the big opportunity for Democrats at this time was to focus on providing economic stability. In that past, he said, stability was mainly a concern of the lower/working class, with low end union workers seeking protectionist policies while middle class and upper class voters favored the opportunities opened by free trade.

This has changed now, according to this strategist, and middle class and upper middle class professionals are also worried about their jobs becoming obsolete, or being exported to other countries. He argued that people were willing to make economic and political trade-offs now in order to get a guarantee of stability in their lives.

Now, I've seen some of this anxiety of late, in that I work on the periphery of the IT industry, which for a while was seen as the goose with an unlimited supply of golden eggs for anyone with a technical degree, and now has a lot of IT people worried that there won't be any jobs for them stateside in another decade. This is scary stuff, and surprising stuff for the people who went into the industry thinking that having the letters "IT" associated with your name was a promise of endless upper-middle-class employment.

So I understand the worry (once you have something you value, it's natural to worry about losing it) but I think there's an unreasonably self-indulgent aspect to it. As Americans, we're privileged to live in one of the most affluent and advanced countries in the world, and in history. Even our unskilled labor makes more money than professionals do in many developing nations. And our skilled labor and professionals have pretty much the highest living standard in the world.

Two things, I think, are important to keep in mind in regards to that. First, we don't deserve such bounty simply because we live in American in the 21st century. We're lucky to have it, and we want to keep it, but there's not some inherent reason why we should have all this and people living in Congo or Pakistan or China shouldn't. (There are definitely historical reasons why they don't, and I'm not saying we're personally obligated to remedy those historical situations, but it doesn't seem fair to me to say that high paying work should not go to developing nations simply by virtue of the fact that they are not us.)

Second, the world is a rapidly changing place. Those of us designated as "skilled labor" are often the particular beneficiaries of that. Thirty years ago it wasn't possible to publish websites or do pricing regression analysis on ten thousand products in an afternoon. There's no telling how many of the skills we pride ourselves on now will be obsolete in thirty years, and how many new ones will be in demand. I think part of what the "skilled labor" market is supposed to do in order to earn the wages that it does is adjust to those ever changing realities.

The sorts of work needed in this country have changed so much over the last 3-4 generations, it's hard to imagine what it would be like if we somehow enforced sufficient stability to keep people's current jobs from becoming obsolete. A hundred years ago horses were still the primary means of local transport, and occupations related to breeding and training horses and building carts and carriages were of high importance. More than 30% of the country was employed in agrictultural work 100 years ago, and now (if memory serves) less than 10% is. Steam engines and telegraphs were cutting edge technology: when's the last time you ran into a steam engine consultant?

Our parents and grandparents and great grandparents didn't have the luxury of knowing that the kinds of work they'd have to do to make a living would remain constant for their entire adult lives. So how exactly do we, with our cell phones and ipods and high speed internet connections, get away with suddenly asking for the security of knowing that our jobs will never go out of fashion?

The idea may be appealing to a lot of voters, but that doesn't mean that it makes any sense.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Imposing The Truth

There was a flap of sorts over at ScienceBlogs over the holiday when it was pointed out by an anti-evolution advocate that Richard Dawkins (the posterboy of trying to turn scientific conclusions into sweeping philosophical ones) had signed a petition over in the UK (his home turf) saying:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.
In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. (NB: as a result of the flap, Dawkins eventually repudiated the petition.)
Now, a number of the better evolution advocates (Ed Brayton, specifically, in this case) over there have a strong libertarian streak, and none to impressed with this suggestion of governmental thought control. Here's what Ed (who is not religious) had to say:
Let me make this clear: no government has the authority to decide what views they may teach to their children. Indeed, I would argue that the absolute last thing that any atheist wants to do is to encourage government to take such authority, because believe me, it's a hell of a lot more likely that you're gonna find it illegal to teach your beliefs than it is to make it illegal to teach someone else's beliefs.

This proposal is every bit as noxious and totalitarian as a proposal from Christian reconstructionists that those who teach their children about witchcraft or atheism should be thrown in jail would be. Just imagine what you would have to do to actually enforce such a law. No one could take their children to church, which means you'd have to literally police the churches to make sure no children went in. Nor could they teach their children about religion at home, read the Bible with them, say prayers with them before they go to bed. The only way to enforce such a law would be to create a society that would make Orwell's 1984 seem optimistic by comparison.

As far as I'm concerned, this pretty much removes Dawkins from any discussion among reasonable people.
Many of Ed's commenters agreed with this, but others thought there was a fair degree of merit in the demand to ban religion:
As for the libertarian argument that "the government simply has no legitimate authority to make any such laws", it sure would, if religious indoctrination were considered child abuse as Dawkins argues. Parental rights do not extend to the right to physically or psychologically harm a child.
And from another commenter:
I've gotta agree with Dawkins on this one. As a person who was raised as a born-again Christian and who's mother was involved with very weird borderline cult churches, I was inflicted with what I now consider mental and emotional child abuse. I also lost my chance to get a good education, because I was so indoctrinated that I believed that formal education was a waste of time, I quite highschool with the permission of my mother and went to Bible school instead of college. Before my indoctrination, I would have gone to college and become a scientist. By the time I was able to fully extract myself from the religious indoctrination that I'd been brainwashed with, I was almost 30 years old. I believe I had some of the best years of my life stolen from me and I lost opportunitites that will never be regained. And, yes, I completely blame my mother for this. We get along now and are friends, but I won't forgive her for this and I don't believe I should. Any there are many children who suffer much more from more severe indoctrination than I did. I consider my case to be somewhat mild.

I do think the government should protect children from assinine actions of their parents. It is OK to forbid parents from physically abusing their children, but not from actions that stunt their mental and emotional growth?
What strikes me as interesting in all this is the way in which a number of the atheist (and I suspect in many cases fairly liberal) commenters are drawn to the same kind of desire to give right thinking the backing of the state that they decry in the much hated "middle ages" and other periods in which church and state were closely tied together. At the same time, it underlines the sense in which ia truly libertarian intellectual stance can be hard to maintain.

In general, we wish the best for others in our society, and as such we want them to understand the importance of good and true things, for their own good and the good of society as a whole. The libertarian ethos is often summed up with the "you're free to swing your fist until it comes in contact with someone else's face) but while it's easy to make calls regarding fists and faces, it can get a lot trickier when trying to decide where someone's liberty to live according to what they consider to be "the good" causes sufficient harm to themselves, their families or society that their actions should be curbed.

While I think there's a real world necessity of building certain areas of freedom to sin or believe wrongly into a society or polity (in order to make allowances for the difficulty of establishing societal agreement o what is "the good"), you can't have a society which is based only on freedoms without any obligations to a commonly assumed definition of truth.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Anatomy of a classic

“Save a place on the shelf between Alice and The Hobbit – that spot is well deserved.”

--Kirkus Reviews


Shortly before we left on Christmas vacation, I read the novel Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. This tome was a best-seller in 1995 (I believe) and spawned a musical with a really annoying soundtrack and very little resemblance to its source. The above snippet of the Kirkus review appeared on the back cover of the copy I picked up at the library. Clearly somebody liked this book and felt it was an instant classic (an oxymoronic term if ever there was one).

Personally, I think the Kirkus reviewer was smoking crack. Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and Wicked share a superficial similarity in that each is set in a fantasy world. What of it? The vulgar, sleazy Oz of Gregory Maguire's imagination is a dark, ugly place. Alice and The Hobbit (and The Wizard of Oz, for that matter) are rightly regarded as masterpieces of children's literature. Wicked is entirely unsuitable for children -- if not because of its grim tone, then certainly because of some rather explicit and kinky sexual content.

I don't think Wicked was intended for children, misguided Kirkus reviewers notwithstanding, so let's examine it as a work for adults. It wants to grapple with the nature of evil -- what makes a person wicked? What is evil, really? Grand beginnings, but the book never moves past questions to accepting or rejecting any conclusions. Toward the end an interesting subtext on forgiveness starts to develop, but again it never seems to make it off the ground. A discussion of the existence of souls is certainly of universal interest, but Wicked focuses narrowly on the origins of the souls of talking animals, a topic of limited usefulness to Joe Reader looking for existential themes in his pop literature. And it seems to me a fatal flaw when the most interesting character in the book (Dorothy) doesn't enter the plot until the end.

This all begs the question: what is it that makes a book "classic"? (For the record, I don't think that a book becomes a classic simply because a hit Broadway musical can be concocted from its basic premise.) The traditional qualifications for what makes art Art in Western thought are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. I won't grant Wicked Beauty. I don't think it even possesses an Anti-Beauty that points you toward the real thing. It's tawdry and nasty throughout. Truth is less of a stretch, though the attempts to discover the truth of the nature of evil or of the existence of souls peter out. Maguire uses a crude realism that's effective (the image of an infant examining her own urine is not unrealistic, and the same is true of the pressing urge of a pregnant woman to rush to the outhouse) but unhelpful in delving deeper toward the underlying truths of human existence. Goodness? The book is skillfully written, to be sure. The imagery is intriguing, if not compelling, and there's a genuine creative imagination at work. It's well-done. I don't think it's good. It's not even great. It's just a best-seller.

Really, this is more examination that the book deserves, but I think reviewers ought to be a bit more cautious about slinging around the appellation "classic".

Blogger 2.0 Holding Pattern

Well, we summoned up the courage to switch over to the new blogger, and upon clicking the "convert now" with great trepidation, were told (anti-climactically) that there was something about our blog that prevents us from switching yet. Guess we have to wait a bit longer whether we like it or not.