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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The First Time; or, Practice Makes Perfect

This being our anniversary, it's time to talk about sex.

When I was a newly-wed, I worked at a theater. One afternoon, as I was working on tech with two other girls, the subject of sex came up, and both were surprised to hear that I had been a virgin when I got married. That set them off reminiscing about their first times. For all our cultural and moral and experiential disparity, we could all agree on one thing: the first time had been awkward, painful, and kind of alarming. This was a bit surprising to me -- surely the heat of the moment ought to be more conducive to getting it on than after a long and stressful wedding day? Not so much, it seems.

There's this pervasive myth that sex always equals pleasure. Sex, so the thinking goes, should always be mind-blowingly fantastic, and if it isn't, something is wrong. How better to insult someone by denigrating his or her sexual prowess? To insinuate that a woman is "frigid" or a man can't get it up is, in essence, calling that person abnormal. Fictional characters do it with a frequency and ease that leaves a subconscious impression that anyone can just hop in the sack and perform with aplomb, or else something's wrong.

Modern orthodox Catholics are justly proud of the way that we've made strides in reclaiming sex from the secular culture and proving that we can do it better because we've placed it within its proper sphere. That's all quite well and good, but it also tempts us into the mindset of "awesome sex through understanding!". Ask a teen why he or she is saving sex for marriage and one of the answers will be, "Because I want the first time to be special." One of the implied benefits of NFP is a better sex life. Listen to a Theology of the Body presentation and you hear that sex is pretty much heaven on earth. A young couple, all in love and high on hormones, could be forgiven for thinking that since they've done everything the right way (waiting until marriage, taking all the classes, having a basic grasp of biology) they're on the way to instant bliss -- just add vows! Unfortunately for our eager friends, the first time is not guaranteed to be fabulous -- in fact, it's pretty much the opposite. For the woman, it's awkward and it hurts (a lot). I don't think I'm the only girl in history to have cried in pain and frustration on her wedding night.

For a while I felt gypped. Maybe if we'd gone on honeymoon right away! Maybe if I'd had more champagne! Maybe if we'd waited until the next night! But you know what? I don't think it would have mattered. There were plenty of times before we were married that I felt more "in the mood" than I did on my wedding night. I'm glad we waited -- not only because God intended sex to occur only in a marital relationship, but also because the bitterness of committing a mortal sin would have been compounded by the shock that sex for the novice is not all it's cracked up to be. I sold my soul, and I got was this lousy lay!

Since sex has a spiritual component, it's important to learn about the Theology of the Body. Since it has a biological function, one must understand the basic principles of Natural Family Planning. But as it's a physical activity, it's the same as any other athletic venture: if you want to be good at it, you've got to practice. For a while. With a dedicated partner. Sex is a learned activity, and it takes more than one roll in the hay to get the basic skills down, and that's before you kick it up to notches unknown. There are better things than instant gratification.


For those shocked and appalled at the idea of talking about sex with my theater compatriots: that conversation turned out to be one of the best evangelization opportunities I've ever had. Using Theology of the Body terminology and a bit of NFP, I was able to explain, to their great amazement, that the Church's opposition to birth control was because sex has an intrinsic meaning of unity and total self-giving that is violated by divorcing fertility from sex. "Wow," said one of them. "I always thought the Church just didn't like people to have sex." So there you have it.

UPDATE: From about half the comments and some private correspondence, it becomes plain that I need to clarify one thing here: all I'm trying to say is, as "a guy" puts it in the combox: "It's sort of surprising that for all we supposedly know about sex, we don't teach the fact that structurally a woman's first time just isn't made, by nature, to be automatically pleasurable. " Perhaps this post is only applicable to young Catholic newlyweds (or those who once were young Catholic newlyweds) who wonder on their wedding night, "Wait a minute! What are we doing wrong? Isn't this supposed to be a wonderful experience, mirroring God's love for the Church, etc.?"

Friday, June 26, 2009

Staying Rooted in Parish Life

I suspect that my family was hardly unique among serious Catholics in the 80s in that my parents often found working around our parish to be key to bringing their children up with a strong appreciation of the Catholic faith. When I was in 2nd and 3rd grade my mother helped teach CCD for a while, until the point where a fiat was handed down from the DRE on lent: There will be no discussion of Christ's suffering and death and crucifixes should not be on display in any classrooms for the younger kids -- that would be too scary. (I believe this was the same DRE who gave an inspirational talk about how one of her deepest spiritual experiences was cutting shapes out of construction paper. Nice lady, but not what you'd call a deep thinker in matters of religion.)

From that point on, my parents made a conscious decision to provide complete catechesis at home, and it was a good thing too as the quality of parish CCD classes only got worse as the years went on. There were liturgical issues as well. The 10:30 "rock mass" continued to rock out standard modern hymn as if they were early 80s hard rock well into the late 90s. And there was "Fr. Vaudeville" who was stationed at the parish every summer for several years. One of the high points I recall was his sermon on how the form and substance of sacraments didn't matter. "This stuff?" ask, splashing water from the baptismal font across the sanctuary. "Doesn't matter! Words? Don't matter! What's in your heart, that's all that matters!" Or the well-intentioned young priest who seemed to think that his vocation was similar to that of Mr. Rogers and gave all his sermons through puppets.

Prayers for Honduras

A prayer request via email regarding the coup in Honduras:
My mother-in-law is a senator in the Honduran Congress. Yesterday a special session was called. Once all the senators and other public officials were in the building, the doors were locked, cell phones and computers were taken away and a coup started. We have not been able to get a hold of anyone in D's family to see if it is over or if they are still be held hostage. Please pray the safety of all the senators, especially T. Z. (my mil) and for peace of mind for my husband and his family. Thanks so much.

...I have checked the internet and Honduran officials are denying the whole thing but that is to be expected. My father-in-law was the one who called my husband from Tegucigalpa (the capitol city) and told him what is going on. As of yesterday evening, there was still no contact from my MIL. Supposedly a general was fired by the president and the military is siding with the general. This happened once when we visited there in 1999 but it lasted only a few hours and there was no bloodshed. I pray for the same outcome.
Thank you for all of your prayers. I finally got through to Honduras and spoke with my MIL. She got home last night at 3 in the morning. She is really vague over the phone as to what is going on but I think for safety reasons. You never know who might be listening.
Please continue to pray for this country. They are so poor and are in a very unstable and dangerous environment. Thank you all so much!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Seven Brief Thoughts: Male Edition

Every week Jen of Conversion Diary and a sea of Catholic blogresses go through the seven quick takes ritual. I haven't done a rigorous empirical study to determine that only women do it, but they certainly form the majority. So while doffing my cap in Jen's direction, here's my masculine contribution to the genre.

1) Should you ever find yourself in the need of a manly girly drink, you might try making a Cherry Bounce Cocktail. (Sounds rather indecent, somehow, eh?) The original Cherry Bounce was a favorite of George Washington's, and Martha made up and put down large batches each year made with the Mt. Vernon cherries. (Evidently ones that had not been the victims of George's ax.) Wall Street Journal drinks columnist Eric Felten provides Martha's original recipe along with a more easily made modern cocktail version -- one of which I'm sipping as I write. Results are positive, made with fresh Texas cherries, but I would make his 2-3 tbsp of cherry confit into 1-2. The 2-3 (I split the difference and did 2.5) tbsp recipe is a little too syrupy for my taste.

2) While we're on the topic of drinks, if there's one of the more unusual cocktail ingredients that you simply must have in your fridge, it's orange bitters. Put a dash into a classic gin Martini and two dashes into a Manhattan. Make sure, however, that you buy real orange bitters, not one of the non-alcoholic substitutes that some liquor stores are unscrupulous enough to attempt to sell you.

3) It's hot here in central Texas. Word is that it hit 108 yesterday, and it was at least 103 today. That means it's time for another of Darwin's thoughts on female summer fashion. Now, no sort of clothing is going to make you feel comfortable on a day like this, so it really doesn't matter if you wear a lot or a little, but fashion has its cycle and right now it is the time of, among other things, midriffs. What, exactly, is it about this zone between the two unshowables that fascinates men and thus fashion?

This being DarwinCatholic I'm going to provide my very own evolutionary biology explanation:

The fact of the matter is that with the exception of those blessed with incredible genetics or even more incredible personal trainers, the midriff look can only be carried off by young women who have not born children. Exposing the midriff basically screams out to the male's subconscious: I haven't borne children yet, I could bear yours!

Which probably means that those of us who already have several children should pack our biological urges off to bed like good little children and stop looking. Those of us who have subjected one of these works of God's and nature's art to the rigors of carrying several children are not in the market for more.

Still, a free show gains an audience, so if you're displaying your natural sculpting for the world on a summer's day and you notice one of us married fellows casting an eye, be assured that our interest is strictly aesthetic in nature.

4) A friend badgered me into going to the rifle range the other evening. Everything is indeed bigger in Texas, so there's a local indoor range that's 100 yards long and allows rifles up to .50 caliber. I hauled the old (literally) 8mm Mauser down there and put 50 rounds through it at 50-100yds. A load of fun, but I ended up with a fairly impressive bruise on my shoulder. The WW2 era bolt-actions were not designed to be shot all day.

5) I've been reading a few books which are, essentially, about "slow food" due to my interest in gardening. It strikes me that we actually eat fairly "slow" already and I'm glad of it, but the ideological approach to lifestyle and eating leaves me cold. I'm also frequently annoyed by the simplistic economics involved. One complaint that I've read repeatedly is that in products like breakfast cereal, most of the money goes to the food manufacturer, not the farmer.

Um... Surprise! With almost any cooked/prepared food, most of the money goes to the cook, not the grower of the raw ingredients. If you buy artisanal bread at a bakery in person, very little money goes to the farmer either. It's not something specific to manufactured cereals and other "processed foods". The only real difference is that people feel good about their local bakery making a living in a way that they don't necessarily feel about General Mills doing so.

6) Living where we do, I drive by cows nearly every day. One of the basic ways to keep the agricultural exemption on the property taxes for an empty lot you own around here is to let grass grow on it and put a few cattle on it. For some reason it was striking me the other day: When you eat a steak the "meat" is muscle. We tend to cut off the extra fat when we prepare a cut of meat.

Now, cattle basically just stand around in a field eating. They're not doing bench presses and squats all day to build up. Yet these boys have an awful lot of muscle on there. I don't know if you'd call them ripped, but they certainly don't seem to be all paunch. Why is it that we have to start slinging iron around if we want any kind of muscle structure? Standing around and eating doesn't seem to do it for us.

7) They say that sex sells, but it's important for marketers to recall that sex mainly sells sex -- it doesn't necessarily sell other things. This is an advertisement for a laptop:

And this is an advertisement for a desktop:

They've both very good, very well made computers, but these advertisements frankly do a very poor job of advertising them. You may think that your product is "sexy" but if you put in the same frame as a model and that's all you do, people will admire the model and move on without ever being sure what that blocky thing in the picture with her was.

It's true that you need to make a product look attractive in order to get someone to drop 1-2k on it, but it's the product that needs to look sexy at that point. Putting a woman next to it does not solve your problem.

Baby, you're much too fast

This morning, while I wasn't paying attention, the baby:

a) Got into the cat food and threw it around the floor;
b) Splashed in the cat's water and soaked himself;
c) Climbed up to the THIRD STAIR -- slow down, Mr. Man, you're only nine months old and I don't need you to move so fast and anyway you couldn't get your leg up that high only last week so I thought we were still safe;
d) All of the freakin' above.

My internal speed limit has been violated.

Afternoon Delight

In honor of Gov. Sanford, whose idea of ending an affair involves thinking that no one would notice if he just slipped off to Argentina for a week ("Hi, dear, I'm back! I've publicly humiliated you and our family, I've ruined my political career by thinking I was so untouchable that I could vanish for a week without consequences, but I did it all to end an affair so we could save our marriage! Let the healing begin!"), this meditation on love from the master, Ron Burgundy.

I bet that Gov. Sanford's friends also think he's insane.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sin Makes You Stoopid, No. 48570234

Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina vanished for a few days, throwing his state into chaos. Today at a news conference, the truth will out: he wasn't hiking in Appalachia as rumored, he was in Argentina conducting an extra-marital affair. The WSJ live-blogs the conference:

2:31 Finally, here’s where this is going:

“I have been unfaithful to my wife, I have developed a relationship with what started as a dear, dear friend from Argentina… it began very innocently as I suspect these things do… just a casual email back and forth…” the governor says. He says this year it developed “into something more.”

“All I can say is that I apologize,” he adds, before asking for a zone of privacy “if not for me, then for her [Jenny Sanford] and the boys.”

2:32 The governor is now musing on the nature of forgiveness.

2:33 He says that he’s going to take questions, but, first, he announces that he’s going to resign as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, because it’s “the appropriate thing to do.”

2:34 Asked if he is separated from his wife, he gets confused, and says it depends on how that’s defined. He says “yes” in answer to a second question about whether Jenny Sanford knew about the affair before the trip to Argentina – and adds that she’s known for about five months. Then he pivots back to discussing his faith and his efforts to work through this, and starts to lose his composure.

2:36 Asked if he was alone in Argentina, he says twice, “Obviously not.” Now he offers “more detail than you’ll probably ever want,” describing the genesis of his relationship, and pontificates about “a certain irony” in the situation, because of experience counseling his extra-marital partner as she was wondering whether to separate from her husband.

Then he starts to discuss the nature of the “zone of protectiveness” in the distance between the United States and Argentina.

Eager reporters keep trying to interrupt, and yet, he keeps insisting: “Let me finish” the story of their relationship and his conflicted feelings about it.

2:38 He says he spent the last five days of his life crying in Argentina, so he can repeat it back in the United States. It sounds as if he’s saying that he did end the relationship, for reasons ranging from his “fiduciary duty to the people of South Carolina” to “the odyssey we’re all on in life.”

As Bugs Bunny would say, what a maroon!

Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

[Empires of Trust, review Part I]

Review of: Empires of Trust: How Rome Built--and America Is Building--a New World

My apologies for taking so long to get back with a second part to this review. In the first installment, I covered the history of Rome's early expansion, and how its commitment to establishing a safe horizon of allies, and defending those allies against any aggression, led the city of Rome to effectively rule all of Italy. From southern Italy, Rome was drawn into Sicily, which in turn made it a threat to Carthage and drew those two superpowers of the third century BC into a series of wars that would end with the total destruction of Carthage as a world power.

With the power of Carthage effectively neutralized after the end of the Second Punic War in 201 BC, Rome immediately became an attractive ally for states throughout the world which sought a superpower ally. That same year, ambassadors from Pergamum and Rhodes arrived in Rome seeking aide against two of the major Hellenistic kings who had recently made an alliance, Philip V of Macedon and Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire (based in modern Syria). Since the time of Alexander the Great (125 years before) the Eastern Mediterranean had been dominated by several large and incredibly wealthy Hellenistic kingdoms. The more ancient Greek city states were in the main still free, but were no match for the military power of the Hellenistic kingdoms ruled by Macedonian dynasties if they should exert themselves to conquer them.

The Romans admired Greek learning and culture, and also admired their ideals of freedom. However, it was next to impossible to argue that the Macedonians and Seleucids presented any danger at all to Rome, and there was controversy in the Roman senate as to whether agreeing to help the Greeks would be legal, given the requirements in Roman Law that only defensive wars be fought. The case for a "defensive" war against the Hellenistic kingdoms was pretty tenuous, but those who idealized the freedom of ancient city states such as Athens won out, and Rome's legions landed in Greece where they handily defeated Philip in 200-197, driving Macedonian forces out of Greece.

Having expelled him from Greece, the Romans left Philip in power in Macedonia, and in 196 issued a proclamation at the Isthmian Games declaring all the Greek city states (including those that had fought with Macedon against Rome) to be politically independent and free of any tributary obligations to Rome.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pity and Fear

Aristotle taught that the purpose of tragedy is to inspire pity and fear in the audience, thence causing catharsis, a purging of emotion. I've always found his explanation of tragedy compelling, but as I get older (queue laughter at the thirty-year-old getting "older") I find that I want to achieve catharsis much less than I used to. Not that my life is layered in tragedy or anything, indeed, far from it. But somehow, one just doesn't feel as much like seeking out pity and fear at thirty as at twenty.

This has been running through my head as I've been reading about The Stoning of Soraya M.

It looks like a really incredible movie, and especially with the developments in Iran of late, I would like to have seen it. I would like to have seen it, yet I confess, I don't really feel like seeing it.

Perhaps as one gains the capacity to understand that tragedy is real in life, one is less willing to seek it out. At twenty, I had a great appreciation for tragedy, but one perhaps facilitated by the fact I didn't really understand it in a concrete sense. At least, not as much as I fancied I did. Or maybe I'm just tired, or a wuss.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Life of Service

Kyle, whose wife is expecting a daughter who will likely die at birth, meditates on fatherhood:
Prior to this experience, when pondering the meaning of fatherhood, I would have thought of showing my children affection, forming their character, teaching them their parts of speech, instructing them in the faith, or playing games of all sorts. I have been able to do these things and more with my son. My daughter will not likely have the opportunity to see me smile at her, hear my words of affection, or feel me holding her. Anencephaly doesn’t generally allow for such sensations.

I have come to the conclusion that what it means to be a father to Vivian is this: I am there with her, suffering with her, even if she cannot know me. Is this experience of fatherhood in any way akin to the fatherhood of God, who loves and weeps for his children?
So often, when we think about having children, we filter our fantasies through a lens of perfection, or just normality. "When Janie gets married... When Joey graduates... When Harold starts walking..." But, since children are a gift, there's no guarantee of "normality". We are blessed with four perfectly healthy, "normal" children right now. Who's to say what might happen in the future, or with future children? Parenthood is a life not of wish fulfillment, but of service. For some, like Kyle, that service is brief and painful (though given with love). Other parents may have to devote even their declining years to caring for an adult child who is disabled or cannot live on her own. Once a parent, your life is no longer your own.

Of course, that shouldn't come as a surprise to us who call ourselves Christian. "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's." (Romans 14:8) We belong to the Lord; so do our children, and like the servants entrusted with their master's talents (Matt. 25:14-30), parents will have to render account to God of how we cared for our children. Sometimes nurturing those children involves the joy and worry of seeing them learn to care for themselves and become independant; sometimes it involves keeping them close and providing assistance well into adulthood, or even all their lives. Some parents, like St. Monica, suffer through watching their "normal" children make bad or even evil choices. Some have to continue their service even to their grandchildren. Some have to watch their children die painfully.

Parenting is a crapshoot. You don't know what you're getting into at the start, and you don't know what game-changing events will suddenly alter the entire course of your life. There is a model to follow, however: the Heavenly Father whose perfect Son still had to suffer and die.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wasting Gas to Save the Planet

This afternoon found me spending my lunch break (or being non-hourly, a period of time in the middle of the day) driving in circles for no reason other than to save the planet.

You see, I have been so unsporting as to own a 1996 Toyota Camry, which despite looking a bit dirty gets great mileage and has 118k miles on it. Most people would think this was a keeper -- except, it seems, my state's environmental regulations. You see, 1996 was the first year during which the current type of ODB II emissions monitoring system was required, and the one on my car, being a first year out attempt, is rather flaky. It doesn't help that my car was originally manufactured for the California market, which has it's own totally unique set of emissions monitoring requirements, which don't match the rest of the country and which Texas mechanics don't seem to be very good with.

So while my car invariably passes the actual tailpipe test, it frequently has a check engine light on, which constitutes an automatic fail on our emissions test here in Texas. Over the years I've spent plenty of money (indeed, almost all the money that I've ever had to spend on care repairs) on getting the car to pass emissions, though last time around I learned that since I always pass the tailpipe emissions anyway, I can just reset the computer sixty miles before going in for my state inspection, and I'll usually be fine.

Thus, I found myself this afternoon driving in circles to get up to sixty miles so I could get my inspection sticker (which was long overdue). A cop pulled me over and observed that my sticker was out of date. I told him that I was aware of this (MrsDarwin having been pulled over in my car last week for the same reason, thus spurring me to action to get things fixed) and was trying to get the requisite miles on the computer after working on it to be able to pass inspection. The officer helpfully advised me to go find a parking lot to rack up sixty miles driving in circles in so that I wouldn't be violating the law on public road, but let me off with a warning.

So the car is now down getting inspected. Here's hoping that 48 miles on the computer allowed enough tests to run for it to pass. But one can't help being deeply cynical about the whole process. The bottom line I've got from various mechanics is: Your car is a 96. It'll probably always be trouble on the check engine light. You can either drive it and deal with it each year, or sell it and get a newer one.

At the end of the day, I can't help suspecting one of the real reasons for all our regulations in regards to cars is to make sure that the car inventory turns over often enough. Having driven my car 4,600 miles in the last 16 months (so the JiffyLube guy told me in wonder) I'm not exactly destroying the planet -- but the government won't rest until I shell out the money to buy a new car, which would probably involve more emissions to produce than driving my '96 around for another decade.

Homer Nods

Woe, woe betide any foolish freshman, who, too lazy to do the work for the survey course, rents Troy so as not to have to read the Iliad.

My summary: EPIC FAIL, in so many ways.

(Spit take warning here -- Darwin and I both sat up and said, "What the flip?")

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Reality Check

I'm tired of seeing pix of people's pristine houses, so here's a reality check: my kitchen after my three-year-old threw a tantrum this morning (what instigated it is still a mystery).

Note the cheerios all over the floor.

Some days you're the dinosaur; others, you're the pirate.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hot Day at the Office

Summer has settled on Central Texas and with it one baking day after another, with the weather forecasts and nature playing a game with each other over whether the temperature will break into three digits on any given day. Thus far, the forecasters seem less bold, predicting 98 and allowing reality to jump ahead a few degrees and score three digits unannounced.

One of the few benefits of this kind of blast furnace weather is that as the temperatures rise, the acceptable length of "business casual" skirts apparently shortens. The annoyance one might feel at having to rush to a meeting in another building through 100-degree weather can be soothed by finding oneself walking some yards behind someone who has chosen, out of generosity towards all mankind, to stride leggily through her workday in four inch heels and a skirt that ventures only halfway towards her knees. Whether this loosening of business norms during the summer months actually serves to cool the wearer much I cannot say, but for the rest of us the distraction is welcome enough.


One of the great things about having a degree in Drama is that it's excellent life prep. Learning how to analyze a scene, discover a character's motivation, and stating an objecive for a character to pursue -- these techniques translate very well to real life, in which one has oblique conversations where one must discover what the other person wants. Heck, even buying a car is a bit less painful with a bit of dramatic training under the old belt.

So I find that when (as now, prepping for my Shakespeare class) I read books on directing, they usually contain some advice that's applicable in larger settings. For example, here's a selection from Notes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director's Chair by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich:
23. Assume that everyone is in a permanent state of catatonic terror.
This will help you approach the impossible state of infinite patience and benevolence that actors and others expect from you.
I wish I'd had some advice like this under my belt not just for previous directing situations, but in any circumstance in which I've had to try to get a large group of people to participate or follow directions.

Not of general relevance, but something I thought was interesting (tender eyes may want to avert themselves now):
Meaning It

There is only one intensive in the English language: the word "f*ck" (or "f*cking").

Listen to the actor declaiming:
O! What a rogue and peasant slave I am!
Note how he strains to make the derogatory language real, as if he really means it. Get him to put in a few "f*ckings":
O! What a f*cking rogue and peasant f*cking slave I am!
Hear how it immediately hardens and sharpens the images, makes them more like real anger and real self-disgust rather than disguised self-pity. Not just impressive, but meant.

Should you keep these word substitutions in performance?
I tried it myself with some Shakespeare, and true enough. Nothing intensifies like the F-bomb. For all you concerned parents reading: I do not intend to teach this in my Shakespeare class. Just sayin'.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Capitalism -- When People Sell Things I Don't Like

With the garden currently shooting up, I've found myself again disposed to read gardening and food related books. I finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma last week, and aside from a few gripes in regards to Michael Pollan's understanding of economics, I enjoyed it quite a bit. On the last run by the library, I picked up a copy of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The idea of moving out onto acreage and growing much of one's own food is something that I find interesting. I enjoy gardening, I enjoy cooking gourmet food, and I think there's a cultural and psychological value to remaining in touch with the way that humans have gained food for themselves in past centuries.

However, Kingsolver is far more passionate (and less balanced) in her jeremiads against "industrial food" than Pollan, and more prone to denunciations of what "capitalism" has done to our food culture. Indeed, so much so as to crystallize for me a trend among those who denounce "capitalism" and its impact on Western Culture. Kingsolver had just reached the crescendo of a complaint in regards to large seed companies peddling hybrids and genetically modified strains, when she turned to the subject of heirloom vegetable varieties, and her joy at paging through lengthy seed catalogs full of heirloom seeds.
...Heirloom seeds are of little interest to capitalism if they can't be patented or owned. They have, however, earned a cult following among people who grow or buy and eat them. Gardeners collect them like family jewels, and Whole Foods Market can't refrain from poetry in its advertisement of heirlooms....

So you see, when large agribusiness firms sell farmers seeds for field corn which are genetically modified to repel pests,
that's capitalism. But when catalog and internet businesses build a thriving niche selling heirloom vegetable seeds, and Whole Foods ad men wax poetical over $7/lb tomatoes, that's... Well, it certainly can't be capitalism, can it? Not if it's good.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Your Wealth Makes Me Wealthy

One of the concepts in economics that people seem to have difficulty grasping at an intuitive level is how other people's income affects one's own income. Many people instinctively ascribe to the "lump theory" of money, in which one may imagine all wealth to consist of a set amount of money, like a dragon's hoard. If you capture more of it, that means that someone, somehow, has ended up with less.

In certain circumstances, this theory might describe things pretty well, but in most times and places wealth grows and shrinks with productivity. Basically, if I am able to produce more goods and services of value to othe people in the same amount of time, then my income grows.

Not only does this benefit me, it also benefits the other people near me with whom I do business -- even if their productivity has not actually increased.

So for example. It's not unusual at this time of year to have some guy come knocking on our door and offer to mow the lawn for $20-30. I always say no, partly because I take a non-monetary pride in being the sort of guy who mows his own lawn, but mostly because I don't want to pay $20-30 for something which I could easily do in 45 minutes of spare time in the evening.

Imagine, however, that I drastically increase my income, by producing goods or services that people value a great deal more than my current efforts. Now I make three times as I did before. The idea of paying $30 not to have to spend an evening mowing my lawn might sound great. Indeed, I might be willing to pay $50. So the lawn mowers would probably end up making more money, even if before going and investing their hard earned money in a 30-inch-swath self-propelled lawn mower and increasing their own productivity.

This is why one of the constants of a growing economy is that all commodities other than human labor decrease in price, while labor increases in price.

New Bishop for Austin, but who?

Amy Welborn reports that Bishop Aymond of Austin is heading back home to New Orleans. Congratulations to New Orleans, but who's next for us, I wonder?

Here's Rocco's writeup of the move

A few weekends ago, I saw Bishop Aymond ordain on of my friends to the deaconate, one of six transitional deacons for the diocese. The next weekend, he ordained five men to the priesthood. Austin has had an upswing in vocations under Bishop Aymond, which I pray continues under his successor. I hope we can be as fortunate as Cincinnati under our new bishop.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Meme: All about books (of course)

Via Melanie Bettinelli, our favorite kind of meme: one about books.

1. What author do you own the most books by? We inherited an entire shelf full of books by Tolkien when my grandfather passed away. Given that we'd already had quite a few, Tolkien is now far and away the leader.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
Like Melanie, I think it's the Bible (in several editions and languages) followed by Lord of the Rings.

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions? What are you asking for?

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with? Aw, sheesh, I don't know. Like Melanie (she's going to think I'm cribbing her answers) I do like Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey.

5. What book have you read the most times in your life? Probably Lord of the Rings.

6. Favorite book as a ten year old? I remember reading Anne of Green Gables and Caddie Woodlawn.

7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year? No contest: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year? Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris (hi, Melanie!), though I found some of the biographical elements frustrating. But the real contender is the book I'm currently reading: Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel On Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay, which is so rich I can only read short bits at at time.

On a different front, Stephen Potter's The Theory And Practice Of Gamesmanship Or The Art Of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating is a hysterical classic. And When Sisterhood Was in Flower by Florence King is completely and inappropriately, laugh-'til-you-fall-off-the-couch funny.

And! Mariette in Ecstasy! A Time of Gifts! Exiles!

9. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be? I would be curious to see the results if everyone I knew read Dorothy Sayers' The Mind of the Maker (which uses the concept of the Trinity to analyze an author's creative powers) and applied it to their tastes in fiction. That's a really snotty answer, and I'm sorry.

10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie? Declare, by Tim Powers.

11. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read? The Acting Person, by Karol Wojtyla.

12. What is your favorite book? Darwin says his favorite book is Brideshead Revisited. I really can't pick one. Name of the Rose The Great Gatsby Divine Comedy Jesus of Nazareth...

UPDATE: Thinking this over, I have to answer: The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.

13. Play? Twelfth Night. I ran lightboard my freshman year for our production and so memorized many of the lines after hearing them over and over again. The sound board tech and I had a countdown to our favorite line (based solely on the delivery of the actor): "O, that record is lively in my soul!"

14. Poem? The only one that springs to mind is The Wreck of the Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins, but that might be because I read Exiles a few months back. Or, if you prefer, Sonnet 91.

15. Essay? The Night the Bed Fell on my Father, from My Life and Hard Times (Perennial Classics) by James Thurber. I don't know if it counts as an essay or a short story, but it's unparalleled as a read-aloud.

16. Who is the most overrated writer alive today? President Obama. Look, the guy writes well enough, but he's not all that.

17. What is your desert island book? The Bible. Cliche, but true.

18. And . . . what are you reading right now? Practical Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare by Peter Reynolds; Fire Within by Fr. Thomas Dubay; The Aeneid (Fitzgerald translation); Notes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director's Chair by Frank Hauser; several books of children's theater games

Out loud to the girls: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths; The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Little Legislative Humor

If you need something to cheer your afternoon, it's almost certain that you can congratulate yourself that your workplace is more functional than the New York State Government, which seems to be having trouble adjusting to a sudden change in leadership:
Two dissident Democrats, who had been secretly strategizing with Republicans for weeks, bucked their party’s leaders and joined with 30 Republican senators to form what they said would be a bipartisan power-sharing deal. But the arrangement effectively re-establishes Republican control.

The change upends the agenda in Albany, where Democrats had assumed power in the Senate in January, with 32 seats, after more than 40 years in the minority. Democrats were pushing bills to give tenants more rights, strengthen abortion rights and legalize same-sex marriage this session. And the move underscores the continuing tumult of New York politics, where there have been three governors in less than three years and four Senate presidents since last summer.

Democratic leaders were caught off guard as the Republicans and the two Democratic dissidents, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens, moved to topple them, and at one point became so flustered that they turned out the lights in the Senate chamber to try to prevent Republicans from installing new leaders.

Asked by a reporter what was occurring, Senator Malcolm A. Smith, leader of the Senate Democrats who was huddled in the hall with his staff, responded, “I’m trying to find out right now.”

A spokesman for Mr. Smith, who lost the titles of majority leader and Senate president in the shakeup, issued a statement later saying that Democrats would challenge the vote, but it was not clear that they had grounds to do so.

Gov. David A. Paterson, at a news conference Monday evening, called the move “an outrage” and said Albany had become a “dysfunctional wreck.”

The governor also said “I will not allow this,” but then conceded that there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Both Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate said they would remain Democrats even as they work with Republicans to run the Senate.

Both men have legal troubles. Highlighting the often elastic nature of ethical stands and alliances in Albany, Republicans who earlier this year were calling on Mr. Monserrate to resign after his indictment on felony charges that he stabbed his companion with a broken glass are now welcoming him as part of their power-sharing coalition.

Getting rid of the roach, MrsDarwin-style

I'm sitting peacefully at my breakfast, eating my egg and feeding the baby cheerios and pureed apricot, when I hear the dreaded squeal from my daughter: "A roach!" She had been sitting on the couch when the thing crawled out from underneath and toddled across the floor. (Keep in mind that when I say "roach" I mean "palmetto bug".) So I sigh and go into the living room where, sure enough, this two-inch-long roach is skirting the bookshelves. He's obviously looking for a way out. While he's on the far side of the room, I gingerly tiptoe over to the door and open it about as wide as it can go, then I hightail it back to safety behind the piano. The roach tries to make a foray up a baseboard, flexing its wings in an alarming fashion, but turns again and heads across the wall with the door.

I don't know what it's teaching my children about the value of prayer that the whole time I'm murmuring, "Oh dear sweet Jesus, please let him go out the door. Please, dear Lord, let him find the door and go out."

But -- God be praised! -- he follows the light, climbs over the jamb, and goes outside. I shut the door, carefully. If I slam it he might get startled and fly.

For the next few moments my jumpy nerves are preyed upon by the small fry who think it's funny to sight "bugs" everywhere and give shrill little shrieks. Not funny, ladies. Not funny.

The Vatican's Rifles

A good friend and long time reader sent along a link to this information several months ago, and I've been incredibly remiss in not doing the research to put up this post sooner. However, as I did the research over the last few weeks, I found it very much worth the time. I hope you will too.

It was through a friend in the Catholic blogsphere that I was introduced to the pleasures of studying, collecting and shooting military rifles. The most common and available military rifles are the bolt action rifles carried by the major powers (other than the US, which fielded the semi-automatic M1 Garand) during World War II, in most cases little modified from the versions carried thirty years before in the Great War. This was the last great age of battle rifles with wooden stocks and large cartridges, before the high tech "ugly guns" of the modern world took over.

There are, however, significantly more rare rifles to be found of an earlier vintage, the early cartridge rifles used form the 1860s through 1900, and of these one of the rarest is the M1868 Pontificio, the only modern rifle ever manufactured specifically for the Vatican.

The Pontificio was based on the 1867 Remington rolling block design, and was chambered for the 12.7 x 45 cartridge, one unique to the military of the Papal States, but based closely on the American .50-70 caliber.

It was a single shot rifle built with the very latest mid-19th-century military technology and had the Vatican crest stamped on the receiver.

In our modern world, it seems strange to think of the pope placing an order for the newest military technology. Vatican City today is an independent nation state, but modern popes use their position as heads of state to try to bring a moral voice to the world stage, not to field armies. The M1868 Pontificio comes from the last time when princes of the Church were princes in the worldly sense as well, trying to stand against the tide of secularism and nationalism sweeping across Europe.

To understand the context of the Vatican's last major arms order, one should look back to the beginning of the reign of Blessed Pope Pius IX. Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti was elected pope in 1846 and was hailed throughout Europe as a liberal reformer. At the time, the papal states, of which the pope was the secular ruler, comprised a significant portion of central Italy, and Pius IX made a number of political reforms to their administration, freed all political prisoners, and began a program of modernization, building railways and having street lights installed in Rome. Many nationalists and modernizers who dreamed of a unified Italy hoped that Pius IX might to open to supporting their cause. Nationalist leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, who would eventually be key to destroying the papal states and aiding the unification of Italy under the kings of Sardinia, wrote to Pius:
If these hands, used to fighting, would be acceptable to His Holiness, we most thankfully dedicate them to the service of him who deserves so well of the Church and of the fatherland. Joyful indeed shall we and our companions in whose name we speak be, if we may be allowed to shed our blood in defence of Pio Nono's work of redemption" (October 12, 1847)

However, liberal optimism soon gave way to violent revolution as the 1848 revolutions, sparked by the Paris revolution which brought down the Orleans monarchy and resulted in the Second Republic, swept Europe. Revolutions in the northern areas of Italy brought about minor wars of revolution against Austria, the Catholic monarchy which exerted direct or indirect control over much of Northern Italy. In November 1848, revolution in Rome forced Pius IX to flee from Rome in disguise, taking refuge in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and a Republic of Rome was declared by the revolutionaries in February of 1849. French President Louis Napoleon and the Austrian monarchy sent troops to put down the revolution in Rome, and after fighting throughout the summer and fall of 1849, Pius IX was able to return in April 1850. French troops remained in Rome and the Papal States for the next twenty years, providing the pope with military protection.

However, the protection of French troops began to appear an increasingly mixed blessing in 1859, when the French (not strangers to nationalism and liberalism themselves) joined forces with the nationalist Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to fight the Austrians in the Second War of Italian Independence. The war was brief (April to July 1859) and the armistice theoretically left the various states of north central Italy independent, but by 1860 the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia had occupied all of Northern Italy, putting a powerful, nationalist country (which was a sometime ally of the Vatican's protector, France) right on the Papal States' northern border. That same year, Garibaldi led his expedition to Sicily (without any state approval) and the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia (not wanting to leave Garibaldi unsupervised in control of Sicily, lest he declare a republic and threaten their own power) sent troops down into southern Italy through the eastern two-thirds the Papal States and annexed them in the process. (The section annexed by Piedmont-Sardinia is shown in purple in the above map.) In March 1861, the first Italian Parliament met in Turin, the capital of Piedmont, and declared Rome to be the capital of the Kingdom of Italy -- despite the fact that Rome was not under their control. The Savoy dynasty under Victor Emmanuel II, which had ruled Piedmont-Sardinia, now clearly intended to rule all Italy from Rome, and in their way stood the pope.

Pius IX, understandably, felt increasingly threatened by these developments and had reason to doubt whether his French protectors would in fact stand up to the Victor Emmanuel and the nationalist forces. In 1860 the Zuavi Pontifici or Papal Zouaves were formed as a military force of volunteers from throughout the world reporting directly to the Vatican.

Zouave refers to the style of uniform worn by the papal soldiers, one based on those of the French North African regiments which became quite popular in the mid-19th century. (One of the few histories of this force to be written in English was published last year: The Pope's Legion: The Multinational Fighting Force that Defended the Vatican)
It was for the Papal Zouaves that the Remington Pontificio was manufactured in 1868. The pictures below show Zouaves with their Pontificio rifles:

In 1868 there were just under 5,000 Papal Zouaves, with the largest contingents from the Netherlands (1,900) and France (1,300). 130 Canadians and 100 Irish were members, as were a few Americans, Scots, English and volunteers from as far away as Africa and China.Unfortunately, this small army would not be enough to hold off the tide of nationalism for long.

In June 1868, Pius IX convoked the First Vatican Council. The final vote on the topic of papal infallibility took place on July 18th. The next day, the Franco-Prussian war was declared, and the council was temporarily suspended so that the bishops could return to their home sees. In early August, Louis Napoleon (now Emperor Napoleon III) withdrew his French troops from Rome because they were needed elsewhere. (France would lose the Franco-Prussian war, and the Second Empire would be replaced by the Third Republic.) Almost immediately, the Kingdom of Italy made moves to seize Rome. On September 10th, King Victor Emmanuel II sent Count Ponza di San Martino to Pius IX with a letter offering to send troops into room to protect the pope, clearly a pretext for annexing Rome and the remainder of the Papal States. Pius IX refused, and on September 11th, the Italian army crossed the border in the Papal States. The Italian army reached Rome on September 19th, and the pope, seeing that the cause was hopeless, ordered the Zouaves to put up only a token resistance, enough to make it clear that the city was taken against its will, but brief enough to minimize loss of life. 19 Papal Zouaves died defending from, and 49 Italian soldiers and four officers were killed while attacking it. The city was captured on September 20th, and was officially annexed to the Kingdom of Italy and made its capital by popular vote in October.

Pius IX indefinitely adjourned the Vatican Council in September, after Rome was captured, and refused to recognize the Kingdom of Italy as the legitimate ruler of Rome, turning down an offer by Victor Emmanuel to grant him sovereignty over the Leonine City but Pius refused the offer because since accepting it would have suggested the the sovereignty was Victor Emmanuel's to give. He remained "the prisoner of the Vatican" until his death in 1878. Pius IX forbade Catholics from being members of the Italian parliament or voting in Italian elections, a breech that would not be wholly healed until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 when Vatican City was established as a sovereign nation and the Vatican recognized Italy's existence.

The Zouaves were disbanded and their rifles were confiscated by the Italian army, which reissued them for their own use, in many cases re-machining them to fire other cartridges. Few remain in their original condition. Many of the men who had served in the Zouaves went on to fight for the French in the remainder of the Franco-Prussian War. Others returned home.

Today, the only military associated with the Vatican is the Swiss Guard, whose standard issue weapons are the same as those of the Swiss army, though modern guns are now not carried in public (though present in the armory).

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Was it Greek to him?

From my "Well, you may think you've made a point, but..." files, this paragraph from a review of the book "The Evolution of God" in yesterday's WSJ:
The closer Mr. Wright's analysis draws to the Common Era, the more forceful it becomes. The most striking contention in "The Evolution of God" concerns St. Paul, Christianity's first administrative leader. Ancient religions died off, Mr. Wright claims, because they were designed for specific ethnic groups and possessed no appeal outside them. Judaism spoke to those born into the faith, limiting its potential scope. Paul wanted Christianity to become a global faith, appealing to anyone from any land or ethnic group. So he offered something no faith had offered to that point -- universal brotherhood. Did Jesus intend to start a new, broader-based religion? That's hardly clear -- Christ never used the word "Christian" or instructed his disciples to promote a new faith. (emphasis mine)
I set down the paper and laughed out loud.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Getcher Gun

Darwin is down at the shooting range this evening, so I take this opportunity to present Donald Duck plying his gun.

This is cute, but watch for the in-joke at 2:37.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Well, Good Luck With That

I have the feeling that readers have emailed me about this site a couple times before, and I left it without comment because some topics seem like shooting fish in a barrel for a blog with the tagline "Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive." However there comes a point when fish who choose to live in barrels deserve to come under fire.

Meet the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
VHEMT (pronounced vehement) is a movement not an organization. It's a movement advanced by people who care about life on planet Earth. We're not just a bunch of misanthropes and anti-social, Malthusian misfits, taking morbid delight whenever disaster strikes humans. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Voluntary human extinction is the humanitarian alternative to human disasters.

We don't carry on about how the human race has shown itself to be a greedy, amoral parasite on the once-healthy face of this planet. That type of negativity offers no solution to the inexorable horrors which human activity is causing.

Rather, The Movement presents an encouraging alternative to the callous exploitation and wholesale destruction of Earth's ecology.

As VHEMT Volunteers know, the hopeful alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens... us.

Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning billions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom.

When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth's biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory, and all remaining creatures will be free to live, die, evolve (if they believe in evolution), and will perhaps pass away, as so many of Nature's "experiments" have done throughout the eons.
Now, VHEMT does indeed answer my question of whether their ideas will just die out:
Q: Won’t VHEMT die out when all its members die off?

If an idea lacks enough merit to be passed on without being force-fed from an early age, it probably deserves to be forgotten.

Awareness isn’t passed along in our genes. Every VHEMT Volunteer or Supporter is the result of a breeding couple, and yet we have all decided to stop reproducing. Often, we arrived at this conclusion independently and without support from friends and family.

The concept of voluntary human extinction has a life of its own. It’s an idea whose time has come, though it may be a little late.
I suppose the only way to settle this matter definitively is through a very long term empirical experiment that none of us would live to see the end up, but this strikes me as being in conflict with the basic nature of the human creature. I'm going to intentionally leave any religious angle out of this discussion (from the deeply klutzy attempts on the VHEMT site to justify their position based on all major world religions, it's pretty clear they don't "get" religion to any real degree) and just speak naturalistically -- which for Catholics can be a stand-in for natural law.

Ironically, in an age in which materialism (in the sense of the belief that the physical world is "all there is") is increasingly common, people seem quite often to hold beliefs about the human person which ignore our fundamental nature as a biological species, albeit a aware and rational one. So for instance, VHEMT provides the following FAQ and response:
Q: What about the human instinct to breed?

Humans, like all creatures, have urges which lead to reproduction. Our biological urge is to have sex, not to make babies. Our "instinct to breed" is the same as a squirrel's instinct to plant trees: the urge is to store food, trees are a natural result. If sex is an urge to procreate, then hunger's an urge to defecate.

Culturally-induced desires can be so strong that they seem to be biological, but no evolutionary mechanism for an instinct to breed exists. Why do we stop breeding after we've had as many as we want? If the instinct is to reproduce, how are so many of us able to over ride it? There are too many who have never felt that urge: mutations don't occur in this high a percentage of a population.

Looking to our evolutionary roots, imagine Homo erectus feeling the urge to create a new human. He then has to understand that a cavewoman is needed, sexual intercourse must be engaged in, and they will have to wait nine months.
Um, no. Squirrels and nuts have a symbiotic relationship, but animals do not have a symbiotic relationship with themselves that happens to result in procreation. The entire purpose of a biological species is to perpetuate itself. The reason that we have sexual organs is that this is how we produce descendants. Not only to human beings have a natural urge to reproduce, that is, from a biological point of view, our sole purpose.

One of the fatal problems with this "voluntary extinction" idea from a strictly naturalistic point of view is that it asks humans to do something which no species is meant to do, something which cries out against any species' reason for being. Telling people as a group not a reproduce is like telling people to kill themselves by holding their breath -- it's something we're naturally designed not to do. The idea doesn't just violate our moral notions, it violates the several billion years of evolutions since sexual reproduction first appeared.

As rational creatures with an understanding of the long range implications of our actions, and an appreciation for the beauty of nature, it's appropriate and necessary for us to consider the impact of our civilization on the planet. While other species may have no other option than to follow nature's boom and bust cycle of eating everything available until famine hits and the population dies down to sustainable levels, we rightly seek to make use of our reason to avoid needless destruction and suffering.

However, whether one looks at us from a religious perspective as made in the image and likeness of God, from a philosophical perspective as being unique creatures on the Earth in our capacity to reason, or from a biological perspective as simply another species of large-brained vertebrates, it is the natural purpose of human being to strive to preserve our species and assure it's flourishing -- not in a way that wrecks havoc on the planet (though I think our planet is much more elastic in its ability to survive change than many of its would be protectors give it credit for), both out of an anthropomorphic desire to see other creatures flourish as we do and because we are in the end dependant on the flourishing of our planet, but nonetheless our flourishing as a species is clearly one of our central purposes as a species, and any attempt to act contrary to that is a fundamental denial of what we are. It stems, I suspect, from a tendency to treat human persons as minds, rather than as the full combination of self-aware mind and natural, biological creature. This allows people to think of humans as something which is out of step with the rest of nature -- an alien influence which should voluntarily purge itself so that things can go back to "normal". The thing is, extraordinary though we may be, we are part of Earth's "normal", the result of its history and a species seeking to assure our flourishing just like any other.

Designed for Cooling

The Darwin house was built back in 1992, and its design was built entirely with air conditioning in mind. There are only two windows facing south (one in a bathroom) and two facing north (again, one in a bathroom). This is unfortunate, given that many of the better breezes come out of the south. Few rooms have windows in more than one wall, and those that do are not well aligned for cross breeze.

This would be all very well if, like our neighbors, we were happily closed up running the AC constantly. However, the AC unit died of a sudden electrical malady on Friday night, and since all good air conditioning techs are currently off enjoying the weekend with their families, we are engaged in a living history experiment to understand why it is that the major population shift south in the US did not begin until 15-20 years ago, perhaps not so coincidentally when it became possible to assume that any house would have powerful and effective central AC.

I'm not off-grid enough in my ambitions to necessarily want a house with no AC, but I would certainly prefer one that does not become a simmering deathtrap when the condenser ceases to hum. (MrsDarwin notes with indignation that she only just had it serviced last week.)

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Matter of Choice

Some time back there was a fellow in the news named Matt Dubay, a man who was claiming that Michigan's paternity law is unconstitutional because it didn't give him any 'choice' in whether to become a father.

The interesting thing about this suit is that it points out the inherent contradiction's in the current legal understanding of sex in the United States. On the one hand, a woman must be given a 'choice' as to whether or not to be pregnant after she has already conceived, and so abortion is legally mandated. On the other hand, a man is considered to have already made himself financially liable for any children conceived from the moment that he has sex. Thus, in the man's case, US law recognizes a traditional understanding of what sex is (an act that can naturally be assumed to be fertile) while in the woman's case sex is merely considered an act which may bring on a transitional condition in which a woman has conceived yet has not yet decided whether or not she wants to actually be pregnant.

Clearly, being pregnant (and caring for a child) is a far, far greater burden for a woman than for a man, so one can see how (thinking with its heart rather than its head) our country got itself into this position. But it's still a pretty untenable position to be in. Clearly, one must say either than sex is an act which has the inherent potential to create another human person, or it is not. One of these positions, of course, has the benefit of being true, while the other might be convenient for some, but is quite provably false.

However, while I do believe that the law should protect a newly conceived human being from her mother's second thoughts just as thoroughly as it does from her father's, it does seem to be that there is a hierarchy of claims to parenthood of the child in situations where a man and woman conceive outside of wedlock. Currently (at least from what female coworkers who have dealt with these situations tell me) if a man can prove that he is the father of your child, he has (unless this is somehow considered dangerous) both financial duties to you and visitation rights to the child.

This seems to me a little off. If a woman is willing to claim a certain man as the father of her child (and if there is any question about it, if tests prove her right) then it seems fair to me that he be both required to take some financial responsibility for the child and also allowed to have visitation rights or shared custody. However, if the couple have never been married and the woman wishes to refuse to acknowledge the man as the father of her child (even if biologically speaking he is) it seems to me to be reasonable to allow him to exclude him from the child's life, assuming she also does not try to seek money from him.

This may not be 'fair' in the sense that many use the term (as in, treating everyone equally regardless of whether that makes any sense) but it does seem to me to make a certain degree of sense.

Though on the devil's advocate side (or the libertarian side -- in this case they are one and the same) there is a certain sense in which allowing any demand for child support from a man to which one has never been married weakens the importance of marriage as an institution. If a woman need not be married to a man in order to be assured that she can hold him financially responsible for any offspring she may have with him, than being married before having sex is at least somewhat less urgent.

In the words of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy: "To summarize the summary, people are a problem."

Seven Quick Takes

Thanks as always to our hostess, Jen.

1. I'm teaching a acting/Shakespeare class for teenagers this summer. Anyone out there have good suggestions for Shakespearean monologues for this age range?

2. Everyone keep your fingers crossed for my sister: she's singing for the judges of Cincinnati Opera's Opera Idol tomorrow!

3. Speaking of music: I found a copy of The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook, featuring the songs that crop up here and there in the Little House series. What struck me most was the interchangeably saccharine style of most of the hit songs of the day. Sure, they were wholesome. Most of them were also wholly undistinguished. I know people like to complain that pop songs nowadays all sound the same; I guess stylistic homogenity never goes out of fashion.

4. One thing and another had me convinced that for this coming school year, we needed to go with a packaged curriculum. So I pulled up a few of the big names in boxed schooling. First I was struck by the price (oh, my aching wallet!). Then, as Darwin and I read down the book list and lesson plans of various academies, we kept saying, "You know, what if we used this book instead... This is nice, but we could do... It would really be better to go with..." What's the point of buying an expensive curriculum if we're going to revamp it all anyway? And yet, without the guideline of a firm outline, it's hard to know what kind of daily schedule we should be keeping. Experienced homeschoolers please advise.

5. The baby is officially mobile now. All bathroom doors must be shut and the cat food needs to be moved somewhere else. He's starting to pull up now, and we all know that the next step is walking. He'll be nine months in a week. He needs to STOP GETTING SO BIG SO FAST.

6. My girls start swim lessons next week, and I don't even have a swimsuit myself. I'm considering this one from Lands' End. I hate buying swimsuits, but what's the point of having the girls learn how to swim if I never take them to the pool?

7. Last weekend we had a bit of a shock -- literally: the 3-year-old stuck a pair of children's scissors into an outlet. Fortunately the handles were covered with rubber, so she wasn't hurt, but the sparks were quite impressive. The cordless phone, which was on the same circuit, was fried, so if you've tried to call our house recently and gotten no answer, it's because the only land line is this silver corded phone that looks all old-fashioned but has a broken ringer. You don't hear it unless you're standing right next to it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Abortion, Clean and Dirty

Via Matthew Lickona, this essay by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, a book review of The Choices We Made, in which women tell their stories of back-alley abortions before legalization:
In the middle of a hot New York summer 60 years ago, my mother and her two roommates were invited to spend a weekend at Fire Island. The three girls, recent nursing-school graduates, worked together at Bellevue and were sharing the rent on their first apartment. When a fourth young nurse of their acquaintance overheard them talking about the trip, she asked if she and her young man, a resident at the hospital, could borrow the apartment while they were away. In those days, lovers had to seize on those kinds of opportunities to be alone together. The apartment key was given to the friend, no big deal, and my mother and her roommates left for the beach.

They returned late Sunday evening, in a commotion of kicked-off shoes and set-down carryalls and switched-on lights. One of them pulled the string on the kitchen bulb, and her cry brought the other two. At first they thought a crime had taken place. Strictly speaking, one had: The boyfriend, a kid with a year or two of medical training under his belt, had performed an abortion on his girlfriend. Literally, a kitchen-table abortion. There was blood on the table and the floor, and there were wadded-up bloody towels in the sink.
Or, consider this:

The quality of the criminal abortion that a woman received depended largely on where she lived and how wealthy she was. Reports a woman who got pregnant while a student at Barnard in the 1930s: “The actual abortion was comfortable, clean, the absolute tops.” On the other hand, here’s a description of an abortion the actress Margot Kidder had as an 18-year-old in the mid-1960s. Her boyfriend, John, made the arrangements, “all done with great secrecy and a great sense of evil and sordidness”; the couple were told to check in to a certain hotel room where the abortionist, a woman, would meet them. After gaining their assurance that they would never go to a hospital if something went wrong, she began the procedure.

I was told to undress and lie in the bathtub, which I did. John was in the other room. There was no anesthetic, of course. She jammed something through my cervix. It was incredibly painful. I was screaming and crying; I had no idea what was happening to me. Then she used what looked like a douche to shoot some sort of solution up through my cervix.

The woman had filled Kidder’s uterus with Lysol.

The horror of both these stories is compounded by the fact that in each case the woman's boyfriend, the father, was present. What did John think, what did he do, when he heard his girlfriend screaming in pain and fear? Did the young nurse continue to see the boyfriend who performed an abortion on her and left the bloody mess for her friends to find?

The raw squalor of these stories stand in stark contrast to the carefully sanitized tone of this piece from The Atlantic dating back to 1965, in which "Mrs. X" writes in chillingly clinical, impersonal language about her decision to obtain an illegal abortion.

I set out recently to find an abortionist in the large Eastern city where I live. My husband and I are in our mid-forties and have three children. When I discovered that I was pregnant for the fourth time, my husband and I considered the situation as honestly as we could. We both admitted that we lacked the physical resources to face 2 A.M. feedings, diapers, and the seemingly endless cycle of measles, mumps, and concussions of another child. Years of keeping a wary eye on expenditures (a new suit for my husband every two years and one for me every five) had allowed us to set up a fund which we felt would enable the children to attend reasonably good colleges away from home if some financial assistance in the form of grants or scholarships could be obtained. Since my husband's income has reached its zenith, it was plain that one of the four would have to forgo all or part of a chance at higher education. The part-time secretarial work which I had been doing for some years to augment our income would have to stop since the revenue it produces would not cover baby-sitting fees. We have no rich uncles likely to make our children their beneficiaries. We have also had sufficient experience living to acknowledge that while the Lord will sometimes provide, He may be busy looking after somebody else when you need Him most.

...The operation was successfully concluded as scheduled. Forty-five minutes after I entered the doctor's office for the second time, I walked out, flagged a passing cab, and went home. Admirably relaxed for the first time in two weeks, I dozed over dinner, left the children to wash the dishes, and dove into bed to sleep for twelve hours. The operation and its aftereffects were exactly as described by the physician. For some five minutes I suffered "discomfort" closely approximating the contractions of advanced labor. Within ten minutes this pain subsided, and returned in the next four or five days only as the sort of mild twinge which sometimes accompanies a normal menstrual period. Bleeding was minimal.
Did Mrs. X ever regret her decision? Did she ever lay awake at 2 AM and cry, since baby wasn't there to do it for her? Did her children ever discover the true cost of their college education, and would they have thought it worth the sacrifice? And here once again, the father of the child is involved and is complicit in the abortion.

Mrs. X waxes as eloquent as she gets about the marvels of medical technology which moves abortion from a sordid, back-alley business to a efficient, sterile procedure:
My operation at least was performed with what seemed to me incredible proficiency, speed, and deftness, with sterile instruments designed for the purpose for which they were used.
But Caitlin Flanagan finds herself struck by another, newer kind of technology, one that puts a human face on the matter:
But my sympathy for the beliefs of people who oppose abortion is enormous, and it grows almost by the day. An ultrasound image taken surprisingly early in pregnancy can stop me in my tracks. In it is much more than I want to know about the tiny creature whose destruction we have legalized: a beating heart, a human face, functioning kidneys, two waving hands that seem not too far away from being able to grasp and shake a rattle. One of the newest types of prenatal imaging, the three-dimensional sonogram—which is so fully realized that happily pregnant women spend a hundred dollars to have their babies’ first “photograph” taken—is frankly terrifying when examined in the context of the abortion debate.
This "human face", this "beating heart", these "waving hands" were on the business end of that syringe of Lysol, or the gleaming scalpel. We must never lose sight of this fact. Clean or dirty, abortion has the same outcome: a woman is bleeding and a child is dead.